While I have been conspicuous by my absence, New Zealand has been conspicuous for all the wrong reasons.
New Zealand is the place I call home. It is my country of birth, the place where my wife was born and the birthplace of my children.
In my limited time on this planet I have seen my share of other countries, differing cultures, other climates and all sorts of topography. This country, Aotearoa New Zealand, is no more beautiful, no more stunning, no more astounding, no more scenic or friendly or inspiring or great or just plain cool, than any other. What the land of the long white cloud has to offer, is accessibility.
These shores are a grouping of small islands-although not as small as we like to imagine-slotted away at the wash created by the confluence of the Tasman Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean. To get here, even with thanks to the convenient wonders of air travel, is no mean feat. We really are at the bottom of the world.
Thing is, once here, everything these shaky isles have to offer really is right there at your doorstep.
Beaches galore, often just metres from your back door. White sand beaches at that. Mountains and forest and bush and sand and surf and sun and tempestuous storms and blazing scorchers, each and every day is different from the one previous and all is available within minutes, or a mere hour or two on the road.
You can hunt, you can fish, you can swim, you can walk and hike and trek and you can camp and you can dine out and surf and catch a movie or a play then dance the night away and if you are careful, you can pack most of this into just the one day. And night.
Nature abounds. Tourism seems to be the logical answer, from wine tours to bungy jumps and all in between. Aside from all of that of course, is the people. New Zealanders, Kiwis, are a pretty gregarious bunch, an open and honest group. A diverse group? Perhaps not so much but more so, despite our refuge access stats sadly lacking in comparison to the rest of the globes nations.
I’m not gonna get political, nor do I mean to be a glorified tourism brochure. Next year might be the time for political commentary but I am one of the great apathetic masses, so whatever I have to say on Beehive goings on will be lip-service at best. As it stands, my eldest doesn’t think I have a clue what ‘woke’ even means.
However, I will lament the lack of open eyes.
It would be harsh to say, seemingly yesterday, that no one picked an earthquake coming. Just like it would be cruel to suggest someone, somewhere, somehow, should have known Whakaari/White Island was about to pop. Christchurch suffered and still does and now it is the turn of Whakatane, a pretty, quintessentially sleepy seaside NZ town, to shed collective tears. As we do too, across the nation.
Of course Christchurch, a place I have heard referred to as the ‘Village of the Damned’ has suffered through even more pain and hurt. I never used to understand why New Zealand’s second largest city is tagged with such a moniker but I am beginning to get it now.
How much can you throw at the one place, the one grouping of people, before they break? For Christchurch it seems a case of bring it on.
Coming from Dunedin, I never liked the place. I was conditioned that way. Territorial prejudices aside, I don’t like how bitterly cold the place gets in winter, I don’t like the road layout, the lack of hills, I am not a fan of their rugby team and that wind!
As a young man visiting the South Island’s major metropolitan center, I was often struck by a sense of aggression. Statistically, as a young male on the streets of an urban center at night, there is a chance this is will be the case no matter where you are. But, Christchurch gave me reason to feel on edge.
Contrast that with the response to the twin tragedies the town has suffered and you would have to say first impressions don’t always last.
One disaster those damned villagers couldn’t avoid.
The people of Christchurch, of Whakatane, the folk on the West Coast who have endured the collapse of not only a mine, but the repeated collapse of their roads, have done it all with a grit and perseverance so Kiwi, that resolve deserves to be as cliched as our clean/green image, the perception of rugby as religion and our No. 8 wire can do attitude.
Heroes everywhere you look. People doing what they do best. To me, that is the thing, during a testing year, few years, which stands out the most.
People. Normal, boring, neighbourly, everyday heroic people.
Naming them wouldn’t be Kiwi. Even if I did, even if we already know their names, they will brush it off. After all, didn’t they do just what every one else would do? Weren’t they just doing their jobs? Catch phrases synonymous with this cloudy island nation of late.
Each and everyone one of us really is that hero. The old bloke next door, your mechanic, the night shift shelf stacker at the local supermarket. A given place, a given time.
At each place, on each occasion, when Kiwis have been asked to step up, we do it without fail. Without fail.
The failures come when our Prime Minister, Jacinta Ardern, is bagged for hugging emergency response personnel on the scene in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. There is blame to be apportioned when low brow Kiwis pop out of the woodwork to applaud and encourage the actions of madmen with automatic weapons.
Through it all, the year has drawn to a close with the sun making its presence felt, the beaches beckoning, birds chirping and bees buzzing. Same old same old.
At home, I have 3 kids showing the signs that a year in New Zealand’s education system is tiring. The remaining one is blissfully unaware, enviably young.
The drama, the tension, the frightening reality of the world, thrust upon sleepy white sand shores, seems to have had little or no effect on the lives of our four semi-rural children.
It’s hard to tell how affected kids are by the things which move their parents, their teachers, wider society. It washes in but I suspect, in many cases, it washes over.
Surely they feel the ‘vibe’. Surely our children feel the emotional content of such tragic events, even if at the time, they don’t understand why.
The hope is, following generations will be more empathetic, will have a greater compassion and understanding and consequently, more foresight.
As the year winds down, chilling as the air temperature warms, what was your big takeaway?
For me, I was struck by how diverse we are becoming as a people and how difficult it is for some to accept that. I was surprised by how much young people feel, despite being somewhat removed.
Sadly, I was not surprised by how non-plussed many people can be.
I promise not to be so inconspicuous.
Summer sun. Family. Friends. Booze.
The silly season may have slipped by but it ain’t all over just yet.
Certainly. most of us have returned to whatever it was we did, what many let define them, before the summer break. Work, school, university. Unless you are in that late teen, early twenties ‘I have yet to define who or what I am as a person so I am on a journey of self-discovery’ phase, then life for you will be pretty back to where it was just before 209 ended.
All that sitting around eating, catching rellies and friends up on all the events, happenings, gossip and drama that had been 2019.
Too much to eat.
Still, room for desert.
Too much to drink.
Just one more.
It says something, quite a lot really, about New Zealand culture that almost everything we do outside of our everyday routine, has to be accompanied by a beer or a wine.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a beer or two and there isn’t much tastier than a Central Otago pinot.
A yak over beer catching up on the latest and greatest with an old mate is, as far as I am concerned, one the better ways to spend an eve or a lazy summer afternoon. There is something contentedly correct about matching tales of the glory days with the appropriate mix of hops and grains.
Anticipation. There is the problem. We await the opportunity. The afternoon so and so pulls into the drive for a couple of nights stay. That evening you go over to such and such’s house for the dinner you have always been saying you should have together.
Every move you make in preparation for those types of occasions is accompanied by the clink of class on glass, the rattle of ice in a chilly bin.
I don’t drink to get drunk. Getting pissed is not the intention but is often the consequence. That creep of intoxication you are aware is happening and do nothing to halt.
For me, I don’t accelerate or diminish the pace. Instead, I will just keep merrily drinking. Others slam back their can or bottle or glass in rapid succession, avoiding the creep and going straight to pissed. Still more will sip, watching in a slightly amused/bemused fashion as those around them go from quiet, restrained, to chatty and demonstrative then loud and silly.
“Who invited shouty Mike?!”
It seems, apparently regardless of the situation, there is a need to have the moment memorialised with the serving of large quantities of alcohol.
All walks of life do it, from the middles classes who can afford it, to the lower socio-economic groups who can’t. There is no discrimination when it comes to the consumption of booze.
And it isn’t like we aren’t all educated in the evils of excessive drinking. Alcohol has it’s impact on our road toll, in our hospital beds, our family violence stats, in courtrooms and prisons, even at our favourite watering holes.
There are advertising campaigns everywhere extolling the virtues of moderation. Police, the Coastguard, health, community and education groups, all having a say and all imparting essentially the same message.
The impact of those campaigns I can’t gauge but I would suggest the message doesn’t make it as far as the outdoor furniture, or is at least forgotten as soon as people start to congregate there and around the barbie.
Drink in hand we begin the subtle art of peer pressure.
“Another one mate?”
“How’s ya beer?”
“Get me one while your up”
We don’t actually say it. We don’t have to. You are expected to keep up and are aware of that expectation. While we don’t have the shaming culture we used to if someone is to turn down that next drink, let alone abstain, our subtext is still very clear.
I’m not preaching. I have no desire to be a hypocrite.
My Grandmother used to tell me ‘everything in moderation’. A wise little saying but one wide open to interpretation.
A moderate amount of beer, followed by a slightly less moderate amount of wine, completed with something more than moderately stronger.
An excess of natter, over do the laughs, too much to nibble on before the main course is even served.
Get stuck in to the chat, digging deep into the life and times of family and friends. Tell jokes, tell lies. You know, those fishing stories. Embellish the heck out of the year you’ve just had and blow out of all proportion the year set to come.
Make the night all about the reveller, the good old days and the best to come.
Remember and reminisce, dwell and plan and hope and dream and do it all with the people you love or will come to love, at your side.
Do it all with a cold beer in hand. Even if that isn’t what you are there for. Because we as New Zealanders are not so short of history, of stories and yarns and tales, so shy of news and events, so boring, that we have to get pissed in order to have a good night.
Sing, dance, knock over the kids lemonade, flirt and grin inanely and be lame and be cool and trip over the sprinkler you forgot was sitting in the middle of the lawn.
Don’t lament the wine you spilled, the beer you tipped. Let the grass and the earth soak it up. You don’t need to.
Soak up the atmosphere.
Febuary. The most difficult month to spell and for me, the most awkward month to get my head around.
February sees kids trundling around with heavy school bags, which will diminish in weight as their schooling experience grows, as the memories of life’s little lessons kick back into gear along with their academic pathways. Those same pathways which have been on hold for week after sunny, hot week.
Bleached hair, tanned skin, tough soles on shoe-less feet, our kids charge through the school gate with all the youth and vigour on display you wish you could still muster.
They have summer stories. Tales to tell and yarns to spin. Embellishments, mis-recollections, already tinted with rose, memories consigned to the backdrop as new phases sweep in.
There have been beaches and baches (cribs for you southerners), trips to see grandparents and relatives arriving on the doorstep. Caravans or tents and barbecues and hot sand and rock pools and sizzling sausages wrapped in bread, adorned with nothing more than a squirt of Watties finest.
Laughter and late nights and sun drenched days.
Sunburn. Splinters and thorns and prickles. Chaffing. Sand in places from which it may never escape.
Arguments over the best way to fold tents (roll, always roll). Bruises, scrapes, bumps and bangs. Long hot days in a car, sleepless nights tossing and turning in the sweltering sauna of a tent. That wave pushing the kayak onto the sand, trapping your ankle, the swelling nearly the defining moment of the vacation. (Dad has always said get out the seaward side!)
The visits from people you hardly ever see, the trips to see people you hardly know. Mum and Dad seem to know these people, seem to like them, sitting up long into the night, getting progressively louder as their bottles and cans carry decreasing volumes. Worst still when parents make friends with the family camped next door, the ones organised enough to get to the campground early, pitching on the flattest spot with the best view and the greater shade!
Now there is no more salt or chlorine coating the skin, it is time to think about school uniforms. That first advert you hear on the car radio, extolling the virtues of stocking up a terms worth of stationary while one special or another is on, comes as a shock.
Routine is on the doorstep, demanding attention and with it comes our return to normality.
It’s time to get back to what we know and do best. While the kids are back at school, hanging with their mates, telling and re-telling their summer stories, for Mum and Dad it all becomes a bit different.
“Isn’t this summer fantastic?!” suddenly becomes “Oh my God, this heat!”
The fact not a drop of rain fell while you tossed and turned your way through sticky nights in a tent has gone from being a blessing to a torment, Still not a drop of rain, none on the radar and everything is starting to feel frazzled.
Maybe it all adds up to going back to work being a bit of blessing. The same old same old giving you the comfort of what you know, the joy of having a bubble shielding you from that which is out if your control.
Slowly, that feeling as been creeping back in, since you abandoned your routinised comfort zone sometime around the end of December 2019. It all comes roaring back, now that the kids lunchboxes are no longer containers for bbq leftovers, now that the car trundles to and from school and not the beach, no longer smelling of damp towels and wet dogs.
I find the hardest month of the year to spell one of the hardest months of the year to get through.
There is the lingering hangover of summer fun and sun, of friendships rekindled and new ones formed. A time of screeches filled with delight, screams of fun. Long nights with the windows open, mosquitoes be damned.
Those nights still exist but during the day jandals have been exchanged for steel-capped boots or heels or those comfy, sensible favourites your feet don’t seem to complain about and fashion can take a back seat.
There is still a great deal to come. There will more trips to the beach, more ice-cream to dribble down hands and wrists, all the way to the elbow if you aren’t vigilant enough. But if you haven’t made the lifelong memories from summer 19/20 by now, you are seriously running out time.
At this time of year I am always left with the feeling something has escaped me, like there was a vital moment, a certain event, I missed. Whether it escaped my attention, didn’t happen because I failed to make it happen, or just slipped by, I never can tell.
It is not something I can look out for, because it is not a thing I know how to identify. A feeling, a sense. Almost, of loss.
The hope is my loss is just as the saying goes. Someone else’s gain. In this case, Numbers One and Two, the E-Bomb and WeeMan.
As an added bonus there were cousins included, as equally involved in the backyard bbq’s, the camping trip to the beach. While the sun scorched our south Pacific islands, the kids hung with extended family, stayed up late to greet the crickets, nodded along to the polite greetings of people they considered little more than strangers and tolerated trips their parents seemed to be taking them on for no reason more than the sake of it.
Too late to wish someone a happy new year. Too late for resolutions, most likely already beginning to fade and die even if they had been given the gift of breath.
Now, the year 2020 truly begins.
Imagine, if you can, what its like when you get so excited your heart rate lifts to match those levels. Now, imagine if that heart rate won’t reset.
Picture a homely scene. A mother, cup of tea in hand, maybe a pack of biscuits within reach, settling on a sofa.
In her arms, a baby. The most gorgeous little girl you have ever seen or will ever see. Just three months old, fussy. Hungry.
Baby is offered the breast. She takes it and Mum leans back, looking forward to a chocolate biscuit treat, a sip of warming tea, a chance to relax. A time to chill, catch up on the sort of rest the mother of a baby misses out on.
Something is wrong. The only one chilled, the only one relaxed, is Mum.
Not for long.
Baby won’t settle, not the way a wee one does when tucked against mother, suckling. Surely the most comforting, restful place on the planet.
Not today. Mum has a brow beginning to crease with worry, a feeling of concern starting to take hold.
Mum is a medical professional. She is equipped. Knowledge, tools.
She reaches for one of those tools, a stethoscope, warms it with her breath before placing it gently against the fluttering rib cage or her baby daughter.
A normal three month old’s heart will bang away at about 100-140 beats per minute (bpm). Not this child. Ears plugged to the life giving pump of her daughter, Mum couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t possible to count fast enough.
Professional assessment was clearly required.
Dad was driving around in circles. It’s what I did, for a living. An independent contractor, I was a courier. When the phone call came, I was in the thick of it, just another day taking one corner after another.
Except today I got a phone call from my dearly beloved, the type of call you pay attention to the instant you hear the voice on the other end of the line. This was no request to pick something innocuous on the way home (has she forgotten what I do for a living?), no idle catch up, no informative chat about why she might not be home when I finished my working day. This call was a request for me to get myself to the hospital as quickly as I could make it happen.
To get to Dunedin Hospital, as quickly as I could possibly make it happen, I needed to make some calls of my own. I rung management, I rung colleagues. Not a soul let me down, people proving they will be there for you when you put your hand up.
I could name names, I probably should. I can’t even remember if I expressed my appreciation at the time, some eleven or so years ago now.
Not adequately I’m sure. There was just too much going on, too much to do, too much to organise. To learn. Everyone I worked with rallied around, did this for me, organised that for me. Were there for me and my whanau.
At the hospital, it’s different. You don’t have control. You can’t organise this, take care of that. You are beholden to the uniformed people more comfortable and capable in that setting. Under fluorescent lights, in cubbies and alcoves off long, wide corridors, this is their world. Despite the soft smiles, the warming words, it can feel a cold a desolate place.
I don’t know how, but I managed to stay cool, calm and collected. Externally at least. Wifey was, understandably, in tears. Our beautiful second born, taken from her clutches and poked, prodded, monitored, frantic conversations held over her baking hot body.
Rapid cooling they decided, shock that squirming little body back in to something close to normality.
Not a thing about this day, this little life, our lives, felt normal.
I can’t tell if you if it was strangely comforting or a worrisome thing, to see the professionals as worried, as freaked and as uncertain as Mum and Dad were. In the end, after some confusion, it was me who found ice, the petrified Father who plunged his own child into an ice bath.
Diving into a frigid tub of ice was not a long term solution. Since that hideous day there have been multiple hospital trips. None as dramatic. On occasion, not far off, even the threat of helicopters called in to whisk our child away from all she knows.
Her ticker has thrown multiple curve balls over the intervening eleven or so years, some a mere blip, others a blot.
Each occasion has impressed on me that sometimes elusive thing we know as community spirit. People really do care, from professionals such as teachers and nurses, doctors and specialists, to neighbours and friends and of course, family. At no stage have we as a whanau ever felt unsupported or unloved.
Recently, somewhat out of the blue, a letter arrived from Starship Hospital in Auckland. They were going to have a crack at that dodgy ticker. A final solution. Hopefully.
The threat, or is that promise, of the procedure has been on the cards for a while. Number Two just had to grow big enough for it to be a possibility.
She has grown. A strong, intelligent, fun, quirky person packed with laughter and merriment and bright future.
Still our little girl. Still a squirming, slippery baby in my calloused hands, cruelly dipped into frozen waters.
My own heart thumps away when I think of what is to come. A simple procedure, day surgery, a night of observation.
To hear it told, all in a days work, not even that. Nothing to worry about.
Are you kidding me?!
Yet I have faith. Isn’t that all I can do, place my trust in those who are learned, qualified, experienced?
The same way I trust my car will come back from the mechanic better than the day it went in.
So while they attempt to jump start my little angels heart (slightly dramatic) I am going to give a thought to the folk who put themselves out, over a decade ago, because they could.
Because they wanted to.
Because I needed them.
You know that guy? I’ve almost become ‘That Guy’
You’ve all seen him. Maybe he is your boss, maybe he is a colleague.
Perhaps he is your neighbour, your mate, your brother. You might be married to him, he might be your Dad. Whatever the relationship, That Guy is instantly recognisable. Especially at this time of year.
That Guy isn’t hard to spot. Look for him coming out of the dairy. He’s the bloke in the faded t-shirt, the one he bought from the stall outside that concert he went to twelve years ago. He might be balding, at least have a receding hair line but it’s hard to tell, because he is wearing a cap, the brim of which is where his sunglasses sit.
That cap is emblazoned with the logo of a supplier, a client, a local business and was probably free. There are sweat stains if you look close enough.
That guy is a good guy. He will nod at you in a gesture of friendliness. He might mutter a g’day, maybe apologise briefly as you squeeze by each other in the convenience store doorway. He won’t wave. That Guy can’t, his hands full with fistfuls of already melting ice-cream cones of various flavours. That Guy hopes he remembers who asked for what flavour.
You won’t see much more of That Guy. You’ll hear him, exasperatedly repeating himself until one of the kids in the SUV or double cab ute acknowledges his returned presence, stops bickering with it’s siblings and opens the door for their Dad, in their own sweet time. A puff of diesel and he’s gone.
To the batch you wonder? The beach? Is there a chilly bin the back of that family friendly multipurpose vehicle packed with steaks, fish, cheesy sausages for the kids? Maybe in the tray, on the roof rack, there is a kayak, boogie boards, snorkels and masks and fins and a change of clothes Mrs That Guy thought might be necessary. On the side and rear of that ute the name and number of a concrete placer, a landscaper, a sales rep, a plumber.
That Guy is, apart from maybe a touch of middle aged spread, a healthy and strong man. He is physical, with meaty, calloused hands. Broad across the shoulder, nearly as thick in the chest as his belly is becoming. That Guy is in his forties, maybe early fifties,or close enough to it. That Guy is tanned.
That Guy has burned under the hot, unforgiving NZ sun once or twice already this summer. That Guy burns every year, his strong back reddening as he turns over the veggie patch, coats the deck, starts up the lawn mower for the first time this season. His skin has coloured accordingly, the way That Guy secretly wanted it to even while telling the kids to be sun smart.
Still, his skin tone over his back and chest does not match the deep, man of the outdoors tan on his forearms. And that dark colour, is a long way from the shade of his ankles and feet.
Right where the top of his woollen work socks stop, the ones That Guy rams into his steel capped work boots, is right where all colour ceases to exist. Here, the glare of bright, lens tightening whiteness begins.
Like a badge of honour, That Guy is advertising the fact he is on holiday. Those pearly white toes, shinier and brighter than any celebrity could hope their perfect rows of teeth could ever be, mean summer is finally here, the kids are out of school, That Guy and Mrs That Guy have coordinated their time off and the holiday season has rolled around.
That Guy will be at a steady 104km/h before the proportion of cone exceeds ice-cream. The kids will still be quiet in the back, glad for the treat, breaking up the monotony of the annual trip to wherever to do whatever. Mrs That Guy will be handing out the wet wipes she still buys, just for such a sticky emergency, even though she hasn’t changed a nappy in years.
That Guy will turn off the air-conditioning and put the windows down, telling everyone how much he hates aircon anyway. The fresh air and breeze is nice, even if the temperature rises nearly as much as That Guys, the queue of caravans and motor-homes and trailers and boats the real reason he deemed it okay to have through breeze.
That Guy will reluctantly switch the cricket off, fuss with the bluetooth, struggle to get anyone else interested in a game of eye-spy, a desperate attempt to recapture the rose tinted nostalgia of his own childhood road trips.
While Mrs That Guy wonders for the third time if she remembered to turn off the oven, asks again if That Guy locked the garage door behind him, That Guy fights off thought of early to mid January, when he will be back laying concrete, building, plumbing or managing it all.
Mrs That Guy will wonder out loud if her sister /brother/uncle/grandparents will beat them to their shared destination. Mr That Guy will wonder to himself if the nephews and nieces are still the spoiled little shits he remembers from the last holiday and whether it is the parenting to blame. Or has he got this lot confused, are these the cute ones, the fun ones?
That Guy loves them all regardless and is determined to give them the holiday from which life-long memories are made.
That Guy settles in the 70-80km/h average he was hoping they would avoid by leaving early. Not as early as he had planned and hoped for but hey, at least the kids hadn’t put up a fight.
Now That Guy is thinking tackle and bait. He is thinking sizzling steaks and lukewarm beers and maybe a good book and snoozing in the shade.
That Guy pretends he can’t hear the moans from the back seat as he kills the bluetooth and tunes in the cricket.
I’m a hypocrite. Time spent extolling the virtues of being sun smart to my children has fallen on my own deaf ears.
A day in the garden, planting and weeding and watering and harvesting. Lovely, a cathartic experience for me, almost a form of meditation as I commune with nature.
Sort of. We are not into exotic gardens, have not populated our yard with a revival of native planting. We have kids, four of them. They need room to roam and move and kick and run and dance and roll about.
They need space for wheels, for fetch with the dogs, for the pool we have erected.
Our garden is a fluid place. Spaces to follow the sun as the day warms, areas to dodge heated rays as the mercury rises.
Any real care and attention we put into gardening is focused mostly on what we can get out of it. What we, in conjunction with that same said sun, a drop of water and some TLC, can produce.
Lettuce and peppers and beetroot and kale and broccoli and rocket and an array of herbs. Spuds and pumpkin and garlic and radish and all the companion plants adding flower, colour and variety. Peas and beans and cauliflower and more to come when timing dictates.
Time is a thing. We don’t have a lot of it, we don’t have green thumbs and we don’t have a family effort. I do the grunt work, Wifey buys the plants, more grunt work for me, the interim grunting is done by me, then I do the harvesting, Wifey or Number One prep and cook. Everyone eats and we all agree whatever fare we are sampling is delicious.
Wifey takes the credit.
Serving up what you have grown is a good feeling. It’s cheaper for a start, that feels good. Generally, the produce tastes better, another good feeling. A bit of dirt under the finger nails and the sting of some sun on the back is, mostly, a good feeling too.
Knowing where your food has come from is a real bonus.
Today kids splashed in the pool, read books in the cool of the shade. I toiled, while Mother went to work, doing her own hard yards.
The sun beat down as I lifted a spade, thudding it down time and time again, planting olive trees, a handful of natives and transferring a bunch of ornamental this and thats.
Looks good. The fruits of my labours will hopefully come. I like an olive, will try a martini. Dirty? I my even shake it.
I ended up a little crispy. Redder than my Southern born red neck might otherwise suggest. Sunnies to shield my eyes but I was lacking a hat, had displayed my dad bod to the golden rays of a hot New Zealand sun.
I’m burned. Not badly. There is no blistering, no feverish sun stroke.
I am a hypocrite.
I failed to practise what I preach and at least two of my offspring have reminded me of that fact.
I can only hope, when I am leaning back, wrapped and guarded against the effects of a long evening mid summers sun, sipping a dirty martini, shaken or stirred or as it comes, that my tortured skin proves worth the while.
Give a guy or gal a hi-visibility vest, give him or her a clipboard, give them a badge and you give that person power.
At least, they think that’s what they have been endowed with. The right to control others.
To an extent, that is exactly what they have been given. Some sort of say over the actions of anyone else at a given time and place. And, before I go having too concerted a dig, most of those who take up the clipboard, don the neon coloured vest, are volunteers, doing a service off their own back with the goal of making somebody’s day that much easier, that little bit better.
Trouble is, a little bit of power in the wrong hands can often end up doing more harm than good. It doesn’t take much for someone to become officious, to weld that hi-viz as some form of baton.
Sure, when there is a big event on, a helping hand finding a park can be a godsend, desperate as you might be to get a bunch of crotchety children out a sweltering car. A bit of guidance to find a toilet for a child who just can hang on any longer, directions to a some water, the entry, the exit. If delivered with a smile and a cherry passing comment or two, highly commendable stuff from a generally older member of our society simply keen on lending a helping hand.
Some of these folk, at the more formal occasions – say a sports arena – are poorly paid employees. Maybe it is that pittance of a wage which sets them off, a bitterness at the hand they have been dealt by the wider world and a corresponding desire to drag everyone else down with them, seeing them adopt a holier than thou attitude.
Curt, bossy, sometimes plain rude, it is these types who can can stain a day out with a sour vibe.
I get it. Having your back to the game, the concert or whatever it is, must be annoying and surely takes a lot of willpower, avoiding the temptation to turn and follow the action.
Undoubtedly there is plenty of action taking place in front of you, more so as the event in question goes on. It just seems to me, the more we grow and change as a society, the less we are prepared to allow others to have a little fun and the less we are allowed the opportunity to self-police.
A bit of summer sun. A few beers. All good.
Individuals may get a bit out of hand, yell some silly things, do something sillier. Normally, your mates, your proper friends at least, are going to rein you in, get you to pull your head in.
Sure, it doesn’t take many individuals before a bit of mob rule starts to take hold but even then, the well behaved masses still have the upper hand. A crowd will swiftly and efficiently weed out those it does not want among them.
It’s just we no longer seem to be given that chance.
The Black Caps are not performing. For the estimated 16,000 Kiwi supporters at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, there is undoubtedly more entertainment to be found in the stands, the antics of their mates and fellow tour hopefuls, cricket tragics and party groups finding their own ways to keep themselves entertained where the likes of Cane Williamson and co cannot.
One of those 16,000 was Jordie Barrett. A young man, noted for being a member of the esteemed All Black squad and a guy who has popped up in the media before.
I don’t know the guy, don’t particularity rate him all that highly as a rugby player but he seems to be articulate, intelligent and comes from what appears to be a successful and loving family.
It’s not rugby season. I’m sure Jordie is training hard but I am also certain he is taking a well earned break from the rigours and pressures of top level sport. Part of that is a trip to the cricket, complete with Black Cap regalia. He has a beer, he cops a bit of attention from fellow spectators because, well, he is an All Black and that is the life he now leads.
Officialdom rains down and poor old Jordie Barrett is ejected from the ground, for what would seem o be no fault of his own.
To his credit, the young All Black makes no fuss and leaves the MCG, under the guidance of Clipboard and Hi-Viz. He is banned for twenty-four hours, after doing no more than what everyone else around him was also doing…drinking an over priced warm beer on a hot sunny day at a cricket match.
Really?!Of course, he won’t have been the first, nor will he be the last, to be ejected from the cricket, or any such similar event under the same sort of circumstances. It is just unfortunate in Jordie Barrett’s case we all get to hear about it, because of what he does in life. The guy has a profile, one he has been at risk of tarnishing in the past and one I hope will not suffer because of the overly officious, power mad officiousness of Clipboard and his mate Hi-Viz.
I get it. There has to be rules and they have to be obeyed. As follows then, what is good for one is good for all and All Black or not, no one can be above said rules.
But rules are open to interpretation. Rules are applied. They can be a fluid thing.
As far as I have seen (not that I have been inclined to watch a great deal of the Black Caps abysmal performance), there has not been bottles thrown, there have not been racist slurs and chants, there have been no pitch invasions.
Sure, Steve Smith got booed. The guy cheated, he got caught and punished. Move on.
Enjoy your typically under-quality over-priced beverage, undoubtedly served in disposable turtle killing plastic. Slip,slop and slap, sing a few songs, have another beer, slip and slop and slap again, try and start a Mexican wave, have another beer and in Jordies case, sign the odd autograph, pose for a few selfies.
Get out and enjoy the summer.
Go where you want to go and do the things you want to do.
Accept a helping hand, graciously.
Hopefully, as graciously as it is offered.
What’s missing? The bits, the pieces from the year nearly gone which made you laugh, shake your head in wonder, or simply defied belief. Maybe, just maybe, the stuff you wouldn’t mind seeing again?
Fat, dickhead, white trash, English tourists. The big hit of last summer.
Would I want to see the likes of them on our shores again? A part of me says yes, for the entertainment factor alone. Our media was besotted, apparently grateful for the post Christmas gift which just kept on giving.
January seems like a long time ago now (or does it?) but these tourists somehow managed to linger not only in our imaginations but also on our shores, for longer than would seem necessary. Scheming and scamming their collectively rude and obnoxious way around some of the most unlikely hot-spots of the north, I somehow don’t think this unruly mob (family) will be missed. In a land where attracting foreigners to our shores is king, have we unwittingly been introduced to a new form of niche market?
Trash Tourism anyone?
There is a rule in our household.
The first rule of being cool.
Don’t be a dick.
Those above broke rule number one with free abandon. Can anyone remember the name of the dude swinging from the wavy spike piece of ‘art’ on Wellington’s waterfront? Na, me either and maybe he gets away with going down as a dork, rather than a dick. Still, not being a dork comes in around number five in the Be Cool Rule Book.
Anyone else hear the rumour Ikea is coming?
Anyone else had enough flatpack headaches in their lives to date?
Worldcups didn’t go to plan. Mostly. That’s right, two significant failures for our so called national sports. Okay, I’ll admit the pervious sentence is a touch harsh. We still love rugby, right? Don’t worry, you’ll still be deciding what the best packaging recycling, up-cycling or ‘I should take up cycling to get rid of this Xmas paunch’ option is when rugby kicks off all over again.
And, wow, realisation time…The Black Caps are actually not too bad at cricket, moral victors if not trophy holders.
I got over the events in Japan pretty quick. And Lordes. Rugby is a game. SBW got over it all fairly quickly too by the sounds if it. A bunch of seriously uncool people gave him grief about it.
Netball went alright though.
There are a lot of things I reckon are quite steep in this country. Petrol prices, a pint of milk (does anyone still call anything a pint anymore?), the everyday basics like bread and fruit and veg.
One thing clearly not steep enough is Baldwin Street.
One of Dunedin’s claims to fame outside of albatross and drunken, couch burning students, has been summarily dismissed by a bunch of clearly delusional officials from a publication named after a pint!
It was always going to be an uphill battle to maintain the title of World’s Steepest Street. And yes, this article will go downhill from here…
Can anyone define ‘Woke’ adequately? Does anyone need to?
Clowns are invited as support to employment negotiations. On the surface, the move seemed a thing someone not conversant with the cool rules would do. In reality, it is probably the sharpest negotiating tactic ever used. Could the same clown deal with the clowns responsible for the ‘Con Air’ flights still winging their way to our shores?
Clowns? I meant to say dicks. And whatever happened to Nicolas Cage?
That’s all I’ve got really. In what was a very eventful year for our little nation, not much stands out. Especially if you are at least half pie trying to stay positive.
I suppose Shortland Street will wrap up the year far better than I can, providing you with a cliffhanger during a seasonal finale an hour and half long, time you will never get back. Not, of course, it is possible to get time back…
The Avengers thing is all over. Or is it? Star Wars has it’s final saga in a drawn out Disney process worthy of the name saga. Perhaps there is room for something original now?
People will still flock here looking for Hobbits, which will hopefully stop them from soiling our soils. Shitting all over a fair land is beyond something even a dick can do…
See what I did there…
Boys hit. Get over it.
I sometimes wonder if life was easier when I was the only male in the household.
No matter the gender split, the more Wifey and I kept breeding, the louder things got. However, the addition of another male not just changed the dynamic, the dynamic was blown apart.
All kids go through phases, in stages. They do it in their own time, deal with it in their own way, as they develop the little personalities which will make them the big people they are destined to become.
The ages vary. Some kids will be biting you before you know it, others might never do it and for some, the quartet in this house for example, it is just a fleeting thing, not allowed to last long.
There are the ‘terrible twos’ complete with tantrums. There is spitting, both of saliva and as a means to expunge food from their mouths. There is the ultra cute period where they learn what it is to make people laugh, a phase which can quickly become an annoyance.
Like potty training, kids can be trained, their behaviour moderated. In the same way you convince them placing their hand on the element isn’t a good idea, sticking a finger in an electrical socket is foolhardy and poking a dog with a stick is just plan dumb, you can slowly have them coming around from the urge to sink their teeth into your flesh.
Children learn at their own pace, dictated to by the dedication and persistence of their parents and peers. A lot of their development is look and learn, doing as others do. Much of their behaviour is a direct reflection of our own, their parents, and those around them.
Accordingly, the ‘do as we do’ theory means we have to be the setter of example, but when the dynamic can shift so dramatically between participants, that is no mean feat.
The other day I was playing Zombie with the little uns. No, not the iconic 90’s track by the Cranberries, more the Dawn of the Dead variety.
Up and down the corridor I went, groaning and grumbling, arms outstretched and eyes rolled back. A passable impression if I do say so myself. All I lacked was the gaping wound to my skull, festering bite marks and dismembered limbs.
The E-Bomb screeched, clutching her hands to her face like an award winning B-Grade scream queen and ran for her life.
Our number three is a good looking kid. I can say that objectively, because she is. Unfortunately, she can be more than just a little annoying. Too cute though, and too big a personality to be listed in the credits as little more than an extra.
Come the slasher movie, staring our little E-Bomb, she will be quite the survivor. Maybe, out of a cast of say six or seven, she will be third last to be hacked to pieces. Not bad going.
But running and hiding won’t do her any good against the zombie horde. Or her Dad for that matter. I have a particular set of skills. I will find her.
The Wee-Man adopted a very different approach.
Fists were immediately clenched, raised to the top of his cheek bones. Just below eye-line. Elbows tucked in to his ribs.
In other words, great technique.
A deep rumble.
The Wee-Man, my Wee-Man…growling at me!
The fists stay high, the face behind those protective layers of clenched knuckles set, determined. Brow pinched together, jaw clenched, he advances…
Wee-Man doesn’t stride forward confidently. He is not placing on sure foot in front of the other assuredly.
Wee-Man is not gaining steadily, moving confidently, certain of his fate and mine.
Wee-Man is charging.
His forehead dips, chin down now, below the level of his gloves. His pace is electric from the start, the first stride purposeful and clear, as is his intent.
Wee-Man gains pace, within a small number of lengthy strides he reaches full steam, head lower still, brow knitted further. Still those hands remain high.
There is nowhere I can go.
No neutral or higher ground. No diplomatic recourse. I signal him but it is clear.
Wee-Man intends to ram me.
There is plenty of warning. He has hailed me with his growl. The only thing missing is a shot across my bow, but I have the sense Wee-Man has no intention of wasting ammunition.
Everything in his arsenal is aimed at me.
It isn’t like I don’t have options. I mean, what does a nearly three year old boy weigh?
I could scoop him up and deposit him in a place of my choosing.
I could set myself, let him fling himself headlong into the solid bony mass of my hip.
Damn it, I could drop my shoulder.
You know what I end up doing?
None of those things.
Despite clear warning, I am not set. Never mind the signals, the overt display of aggression.
I see it coming, but there is little, if anything, I can do about it.
So I do nothing.
Nothing that is, except get hit with a double-fisted power punch any Marvel superhero mutant would be proud of, straight in the midriff, with enough powered to damn near knock the wind out of me.
My Mother ran a childcare center for many years. More years than I comprehend being able to cope with. At some stage, it was decide to make the facility, if that is the right name for such an institute (that sure isn’t the right moniker) a non-hitting place.
Admirable, though I am sure difficult to administer and police, given the numbers involved.
Mum had several staff members helping her out. I just duck for cover.
Seriously, I can take it. I am not a big guy, not a powerfully built man. I am reasonably well padded though. That helps.
Wee-Man can rain blows on me all day and as long as he doesn’t make contact with my eyes, nose or baby-makers, I should be able to cope.
The same can’t be said for his siblings, even the older ones having issues when struck by the violent intent of the Wee-Man.
It isn’t all a nasty, evil desire to knock his opponents to the ground in a red mist of hate fueled rage. Sometimes it is a playful thing, getting just that little bit carried away…an excess of exuberance and excitement.
Sometimes, Wee-Man is just plain mad. It is on those occasions you need to have your wits about you, your reflexes honed.
Wee-Man is disciplined. He gets told off and it is damned hard at times not to smack him. We are not a smacking family, though just quietly, the option has not been removed entirely from the repertoire, despite legislation.
Wifey and I are in accordance. Kinda defeats the purpose, don’t ya reckon?
But hey, if his sister wants to have a crack back at him, give as good as he gets, chances are he will learn a lesson one way or another.
In the meantime, we went out and purchased him a pair of gloves and punch bag, Wee-Man sized. Maybe it is just going to encourage him, maybe he will channel whatever it is inspiring him to punch and hit.
One thing is certain, it won’t hurt as much!
Get over it, because right now, he is too short to duck, bob or weave.
Plans for the weekend?
I’ve used this forum and my limited readership, like a bit of cathartic exercise these last couple of days.
I have vented and released and I feel all the better for it. Now, a stunning Sunday morning has dawned, sun low in a cloudless Autumn sky.
This is gonna be a good one.
The same dogs down the hill are barking, the way they do on and off during random hours of the day and night. Hard to identify where their plaintive calls are coming from, as the plains below are smothered in a layer of mist. Or is it fog?
Roosters crowing, birds chirping, traffic stilled (not that we get a lot) and children stirring.
Today should prove riveting.
There are chores to be done, exciting stuff like laundry and ironing and vacuuming and maybe some gardening. As the breeze picks up, swirling away the mists below and the day warms the insects and birds into their work, we will share the load, so hopefully we are free of tasks by midday.
Wifey is at work. Her new role, shifts. It stuffs with her sleeping patterns, almost as much as a transitory two and a half year old does.
Will he need a nappy or is he down with the potty?
Will he sleep through the night or demand a cuddle, sometime in the small hours?
Will he accept a cuddle? Or is he going to want the comfort of a breast?
I’ll ponder all these questions and more, as I vacuum.
Cobwebs to be swept from the deck, with its attractive view simply a sideline, something peripheral. Cars to be cleaned, if we can be bothered getting that carried away, driveways swept. Even mowing the lawn, if I am feeling particularly motivated.
With a bit of luck and some coercion, the kids will share some of that motivation. We may get finished early, head out for the afternoon for quality family time, explore some of our locality.
Of course, it is half nine in the morning and I am still sat here sipping coffee. The television is on. But hey, the washing machine is on, the dishwasher too.
Not a great deal of progress to be found there and to be honest, how boring, how mundane, does the plan for this cheery Sunday sound?
Despite the little chips of progress I am making on the routine, unwritten to-do list, the whirlwind cyclone that is our children will destroy it all, in a matter of moments. Even their own efforts to help, responding reluctantly to orders and commands, delivered in an ever increasingly exasperated manner and tone, will amount to little once the shackles are released and they are free to wreak havoc once again.
I’m not looking forward to winter. The long, hot, dry summer we have enjoyed or endured as is your want, giving way to the relative cool and damp. Nearly April and still the sun shines, still the rains refuse to come, still the nights are not a great deal cooler than the summer highs of climes further south.
Long days, dark dominating light, lunar not lighter. Kids in doors more, both at school and at home. Closer, louder, smellier.
Grateful I am working again, torn at the way I have so readily adapted to being back at work, the way I am not missing all the bonus time with my kids, time I had as recently as the beginning of this summer, as much as I thought I would.
As much as I should.
Or should I?
Is my guilt justified? More-so, is it manufactured?
Am I really feeling guilty or am I actually relieved? There is certainly relief in witnessing my children carry on with their lives, as if my influence over the last year or so, the past few seasons, accounted as negligible at best.
I am happy. As much as any slightly over weight, balding yet perversely hirsute, middle-aged man can be. Happy, to have reclaimed a piece of me which was missing, absent without me even being aware it was gone. Until it returned.
Why do we do it? Why do we like to do it? (allow me the luxury, on this fine day, of generalisation)
Routine. Structure. Of course, income.
I am not robotic, no slave to a machine but I am happier, feel more complete, when I have dirtied my hands, when there is sweat on my brow, when my back is bent and aching.
I am never more satisfied when the job is done, my mind long since having turned to the next task.
But for all that, chores are different.
I could abandon the vacuuming before the plug reaches the socket. No guilt, no remorse. Let the dishes pile high, I will simply turn my back, not venture into the kitchen, stay clear of the laundry, letting the washing fester in a musty, damp, sad and sorry pile at the bottom of the machine.
Sweep the deck? Na, wait for the wind to really get going. Heck, it will bring as much crap as it removes, so why bother?
Make the bed? Na, I will be in it again before you know it, so the point is exactly?
The point is, Wifey’s shift does not last forever. She who must be obeyed will return to her domain, her lair, before the day is done and if the chores aren’t…this may may well be the last you hear from me. Bed made or not, I won’t be sleeping in it!
I have work to do.
( The views and descriptions of the author are in no way intended as an exact replication of Wifey…she is far scarier! )