Challenge

It is a bit of an old adage. Too many people with their hands out, not enough with their hands up.

That saying is, unfortunately, typically true of far too many communities in this country, let alone the region I live in. So many people and groups asking for help, not helping themselves. What is worse, those who can’t even muster the gumption to ask.

Is that worse? I think, in many cases, there are groups, and by groups I mean pockets of Maori, Pacific Islanders and refugee communities, lower socio-econimc enclaves, who are either ignorant of, non-plussed by, or adverse to, the assistance of a government they do not believe in, have no faith in, or are blase about. Put that up against a system which is inherently uninformative, having so much to offer yet constantly finding ways to block and obfuscate, making access not only difficult but sometimes damn near impossible.

I hate using the term ‘system’. They are all broken and bent, systems, only as good/ bad or effective as the people operating them. The governments fault? The failing of their agencies and the staff and personnel, representing the offices charged with actioning policy and legislature? Sometimes, clearly, yes. Can we blame the departments and those who are cloistered within their Wellington-centric confines? Can fingers be pointed at policy, the interpretation and implementation thereof? Is the blame, the fault, if that is what we are seeking, one of funding? Is it a lack of understanding, a failing in qualification?

These are fundamental debates, base questions. While they are being asked, the people who need the result, those who require the outcome of a measured, thoughtful, complete and secure option, are missing out. Some choose to. They wish to have no part and are so entrenched in being ignored and ignoring, something like a Census, online or not, is irrelevant. Others will keep asking, keep pushing, keep agitating. All the while the masses will accept, ready to receive whatever meager offering is dropped, wafting like the light-weight measure it is, into their out-stretched hand.

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So many of our social watchdogs and commentators are guilty of it. I have respect for the Duncan Garner’s and Kanoa Lloyd’s of this world, all the others, whether I agree with them or not. Engaging, intelligent and apparently well informed television presenters. Trained, qualified and experienced people, a new breed in the wake of the Mike Hoskings and Paul Henry’s. They are charged with giving the masses something to think about. They attempted to do just that, to highlight and to question and to interpret and add feeling and provide understanding and in doing so, for me at least, offer an insight into the big failing in New Zealand and New Zealanders.

A while ago Lloyd sought to comment on the claim, snatched upon by the media, that the newly appointed National Party leader, is not Maori enough. Whatever that means. (I am not in a position to ask, let alone answer, what it means to be Maori, so will not even attempt to go there). She took her allotted minutes and tried to convince us we were, are, better off asking why so many Maori are reflected in our court systems, our prison populations and as our homeless, our drug dependents and our mentally unwell and all the rest.

At face value, good questions you might think. Picture any area in our society where it is not good for people to be and Maori are disproportionately represented. Kanoa Lloyd was simply asking why. Well Kanoa, I say save your breath.

We know the questions. They have been asked again and frustratingly again. They will always be asked. OK, fair enough, until the issues are fixed, let the Kanoa’s of this world have their space and time to ask, to agitate, to seek discourse and create debate. Good things, undoubtedly.  It is just I, for one am sick of hearing it.

The questions raised around the plight of Maori, particularly urban Maori, are not new. Should we go ahead and throw in all the rhetoric around Meth abuse too, while we sip our non label reds as the Chilean Chardonnay chills. Grab another craft beer and sit down for a chat. Grab a box of Lion red and kill the hours it takes for a day to pass when you don’t have a job, because there is no job. I can only hope, somewhere around the fifth or sixth stubby, someone says something, through a toothless grin, of import. I’ve heard all the questions before, heard why they are raised.

Now, I am privileged, which is not the right word, to be seeing it first hand, and still I am waiting to hear anyone come up with a solution. Because at the coal face there is so much more than just queries over an over inflated proportion of the prison population or registration on the dole. It is all the little grass roots stuff and at risk of sounding like I am firm believer in a ‘nanny state’, perhaps a few of the values of our grandparents era wouldn’t go astray.

Why are people buying pies and a bottle of coke for breakfast?

A sugar addiction maybe? It has been touted in the press, expanded upon by the experts. The answer being touted? Tax. Levies and fees and all the rest. Doesn’t work with smokes, so why is it going to work with sugar. Taxing sugar is tackling the problem backwards. Drop the taxes, the G.S.T on water and milk and veggies and fruit and if needed, subsidize the hell out of market gardens and orchards and all the rest, so their product reaches the shelves cheaper, making them more accessible.

I don’t really know. Maybe ban the operation of a pie warmer before the hour of 11am, so the crusty deliciousness that is one of New Zealand’s staple treats, isn’t available before lunch. Fizzy drinks cannot be cooled. You want a cold coke, you have to take it home and put it in the fridge. Not such a big effort but maybe on a hot day, you’ll reach for the bottled water instead. Take the enticing labels and packaging away from the ice-cream and the lollies and the fizzy, the same way it has been done for cigarettes.

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Subsidize gym membership for the obese, offer subscriptions to sports clubs and recreational facilities. Organised community activity days; nothing more complicated than a healthy food truck or two, selling CHEAP quality food and drink to a bunch of people kicking a ball around, throwing a frisbee, swinging a bat, building kites, fishing, surfing, dancing, riding bikes, yoga…whatever, just being active and doing so in an encouraging and nurturing environment. Even have instructors and coaches involved, paid professionals, offering experience and expertise.

Maybe these are expensive options and maybe there will be difficulties in certain communities. But where there is a problem, there is always a solution and it is the very same people in those communities who will identify those issues and solve them.

I have heard it said too often it starts with our kids, the idea if we can get them on-board, what they learn, the right things and the good things, then they take it home and the learning is passed on to their parents and wider whanau.

Bollocks. It is up to us, as parents and as adults, as councils and governments and all the agencies thereof, to make the change, shift the thinking. It is up to us to lead, show the next generation where we have gotten it so wrong and then help them be part of the fix.

I am a chubby, unfit guy. I like a beer and a pie as much as the next person. More than many. I don’t exercise and while my diet isn’t atrocious, it isn’t great either. I am lazy, look for the easy way out and can get too comfortable on the couch for long periods of time. There are four kids in this house who are fit and slim and energetic, blessed with youthful metabolisms which keep them firing on all cylinders. I could take a lot of lessons from them for sure. And I could sure as hell lead by example a lot more too.

Before I can do any of that, I need to stop asking the same questions over and over again and start providing answers. Because, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we have just as many of them, the answers, as we have questions.

A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. A good catchphrase. Healthy, happy, content and engaged people don’t end up in prison. They don’t join a dole queue. Fully functioning, supported members of society contribute and participate. Something we all need to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Shift

I’m grumpy.

Okay, I am a white, middle class male, in and around my middle years. So of course, I am prone to bouts of dissatisfaction and I like to think I am articulate enough to express those feelings. Whether or not anyone is interested in hearing me rant and occasionally, rave, is not my concern.

As the season begins to turn, the sticky, at times oppressive heat and humidity giving way to the cool and damp of the Winter-less North, I can feel the invasive spread of SAD…Seasonal Affliction Disorder. Much like the creeping spread of mold, in our beautifully positioned, but sadly decaying, Hokianga slice of paradise, I can feel myself starting to shut down for the coming season. I am at risk of stagnating, if it wasn’t for the kids.

One and Two head off to school. Their outlet. For seven or so hours a day, keeping them entertained, informed and inspired, is not my problem. That falls to the lovely ladies and gents at the local Primary, all passionate and inspirational people I am sure. Thing is, when those big kids get home, to join the E-Bomb and Wee-Man, we’re all left virtually twiddling our thumbs.

Summer means hours of lazy days on the beach. It is sprinklers and water pistols and afternoons dodging the sun, reading to the back drop of whirring fans, moving heavy air from one side of the room to the other. Not hard to drain the kids of their seemingly endless energy.

Without the bright hot sun, the damp clings to everything. That will at least take care of the flies and the fleas, even while a few crickets are still clinging to the promise of a summer which has abandoned them. Spiders know, creeping into the house in ever greater numbers, looking for a nook or cranny to curl up in and while away the winter drag. A sure sign winter is coming. An unwelcome one.

A sense of malaise sweeps over me and it’s partly because I can’t be drawn into the types of things which entertain the kids with such ease. I’m not a television watcher, outside of sports and I am certainly not a gamer. I get down on the floor with the little two, engage and join in, clambering about making out I am the type of tiger Katy Perry could only dream of being. I draw and scribble and meld play-do and read aloud and fill the basin with suds and all the rest of it. It is fair to say, before long it is me who is bored.

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Bored stiff. Not from a lack of interest or a failure to engage. Stiff because joints and muscles find it difficult to get up off the floor. But yes bored. Repetition is the killer for an adult imagination it seems, mine at least, but is the fire for a young burgeoning one. Maybe they see a new and exciting thing every time, maybe they are excited by the familiar and the comfort of the known. I have lost count of the times I have read the same books, had half an eye on the same movies. It is a frightening thing to open your mouth in the shower and find you are nutting out a Disney classic you had no idea you knew the words to.

Therefore I don’t buy into the premise having kids around keeps you young. It is even possible they age you quicker. There is no hiding the fact I am less tolerant now than we we first started breeding but back then, I had distractions of my own. I worked and I played. I was still young enough and dumb enough to be involved in sport more actively. I went out the door each morning and stayed out until the evening rolled around, gainfully employed. I had the outlet afforded to number’s One and Two, if not quite as educational. And now I find, the more the we are forced, as a unit, to stay in each others space, to permeate it, invade, the less likely I am going to be such a big, fluffy, friendly tiger.

The capacity to force it never ceases to amaze me though. Especially where the kids are concerned. Fake the smile and the laughter as much as you fake the tiger’s growl. It can be extra tiring, putting up the facade for your kids, while all the time you wither and die inside, curling and browning at the edges like the autumnal leaves giving up and dropping to the ground all around. Okay, maybe that is all a bit too melodramatic, a touch too melancholic, and in truth by the time I reconcile these feelings of low and slow festering, like the mud and quagmire our yard is becoming, the sun will start shining again, the mercury will rise and I will wonder what the hell the problem was.

Some people put on weight over the cooler months as they tuck into ‘comfort’ food. Others just shift their patterns, opting for different pass-times, alternative activities. It may be seamless, it may be a conscious shifting. Our kids don’t seem to notice it much, not directly. They don’t dress appropriately for cooler weather any more than they did for the heat. Their desired choices of activities don’t change either, still fixated by the idea a movie will provide all the excitement and mental stimulation their growing brains are craving. From Number One down they are not asking for the beach as often as they used to, only a week or so ago. There is even the occasional, wary inquiry ‘What is the day going to be like?’

The day is going to be what ever you make it. Just like the one before, or something entirely new, exciting and different. No, we are not going to the beach. No you cannot watch a movie.

While I pray for greater flexibility and wonder just why it is kids have to yell at me when I am right next to them, as I snatch moments to achieve things over the course of days which should take no more than an hour, when the rains come and I manage to convince the kids to brave the elements, squashing them into last seasons gumboots and rain coats, readying them for a torrential downpour the last drops of which dry up just as the final zip is fastened, I may take a moment to rock back and breathe, mind fading to a sunny summer day now gone, not forgotten, and one I know will return.

It is amazing, when you have to force and fake the smile, how readily it can stick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Just the Roadie

For me, a song should be heard on the album first. That way, you hear it played exactly the way it was intended to be heard.

You get the mix, the fullness, of all the combined visions and imaginings from producers, the artist themselves and those playing alongside. It is a sum of all the collaborations and shared experiences and abilities. A bit like parenting.

You will often here a musician describing an album they have created or are in the process of creating, as their ‘baby’. They are referring to the all consuming, passionate, dedicated love for what they are doing. How creating that baby takes up all their time, dominates all their thoughts, beginning to grow and evolve under their guidance.

Track by track the album grows, song by song developing into the image the artist is trying to create. There will be singles, moments of standout perfection when everything coalesced into a pure moment of understanding. There will be misses, stuff in moments of reflection, the artist wishes had never made it onto the album, that no number of retakes and cuts or polishing in the sound booth is ever going to make right.

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Once the artist has given birth to the process of creating an album, a set of songs that will undoubtedly and hopefully take on their own persona and personality, it will become a being in and of it’s own right. What started out as snatched moments with a guitar and a note pad, time behind a keyboard with an old school eight-track, grows and blossoms and begins a life all it’s own. Once that album has been completed, when all the finishing touches and nuances have been laced together, then the artist has to ask, can this all be recaptured live, on the stage, in front of an audience.

Perhaps, by then, the album has decided it needs a horn section to flesh out their sound. Perhaps the album turns to cellos and violins to add authenticity or a certain feel. Maybe the album will add some electronica, to develop and grow. At times the album will rock and it will roll, then sink into soulful melancholy. There will be blues and then a show of jazz hands and there will be epic numbers stretching forever, reaching and yearning and striving. At times the album may be stripped back, raw and emotive, a return to that guitar and notebook, a solo voice, free of band and back-up singers.

Despite how well you think you know your kids, how well you think you might know anyone, people are always going to surprise you. Children more than most. You can never be too sure what direction they are going to take, just like a live, rambling, epic version of your favourite track, that cherished album. Because once your children, your album, is free of the studio, you can no longer peg it, no longer put it neatly into a box and seal it with a label.

Every time you see that album it will be bursting free, growing  new tendrils, a new root. A new note. Today is the first time you have seen it, heard it yet it is the same song you started humming some time ago. Different, fresher, grown and growing. Another song for the album. Another verse, bridge and chorus.

Sometimes the kids are like London Calling, the scratchy old (not Hipster) vinyl; played to death, as a soundtrack to my life. Angry yet comprehending, understanding yet questioning.  Between the four of them they become the Rolling Stones’ Tumbling Dice, a compilation but a stand alone work of art in it’s own right. A family of music. I know the verses, the rhythm, the beat and the choruses, yet there are layers and always a little something new, something previously undiscovered.

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So many nuances, so many new and updated versions of the same song. Melded by the influences surrounding the artist at the time. A new artist now, creating their own songs as they compile their very own album. All you can hope for is that somewhere, tucked away on a B-side, maybe never to be released, is an homage to you.

Perhaps, for your budding artist, the world will be their stage. Massed hordes of adoring, screaming fans, hanging off every chord, every riff. Larger than life, popular, influential, admired and set to be heard for years to come.

Perhaps your artist is content to stamp their foot on the battered deck of a flatdeck truck, parked up somewhere in the middle of a sunny domain. Families on blankets are munching trailer food and sipping craft beer as their kids, future artists themselves, are bopping along. Maybe no one is paying any attention and the album is banged out regardless, raw and true and happy and back to work on Monday.

Perhaps that album never leaves the notebook, never comes out from behind the guitar or keyboard. It has been played all the same, heard all the same.

However that album seeks to manifest itself it is important to nurture it, let it grow and develop and find it’s own way to the stage of its choice.

The key is to play, hear and listen to the album your kids are creating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delegation

How do you prevent the ‘everyday’ from becoming mundane? How do you stop normal from being boring?

It is difficult not to lose a bit of yourself when you are at home with kids. For me, it is partly environmental and a big part the climate. I turn to the outdoors for entertainment and as a means to entertain my children.

Tough though, when one is a little bomber, delighted by a muddy puddle, the other a little princess, disgusted my a splash of mud on a gumboot. The older two have their own ideas on what it means to fend off boredom. Ever increasing demands for greater screen time, or heads buried in books and here is their Dad, worrying they don’t get enough fresh air and exercise.

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But as for my own level of excursion…everything at the sedate pace of a three and a bit year old. The E-Bomb is an amazing walker. She can cover an incredible amount of miles with little or no complaint and is fully engaged with what is going on around her. She is questioning, full of inquiry and inquisition. The Wee-Man is the same, never more content than when the wheels of his buggy are going round.

As I have gotten older, I have felt the desire to be on my own more. It is not that I am shunning anyone, family included, or that I have become sort of grumpy old man recluse. I have always been grumpy, so I guess it is just an aging thing. Not that I am by any means old, it is just that while I am the same man I used to be twenty or so years ago, I can’t help but notice I am an older version of that person.

Never a patient guy, I seem to have even less tolerance these days. I am far more likely to comment on everyday little annoyances I would previously have let go and boy, can I rant if I get my heckles up. Partly it is because I pay more attention to the ‘issues’ of the day but a big bit is because I make an issue out of things that just aren’t. All in all, not a great recipe when the school holidays roll around.

This time the term break seems to have coincided with a blast of wet and wild weather, not something conducive to finding ways to keep four children of varying ages entertained. There have been dress-ups already, forts have been built, readily converted to planes or submarines. There has been a bedroom dance party and there will be baking and crafty stuff and whatever else it takes to keep them happy and at least a little quiet. Yes, that means there will be screen time. Not quite the last of the summer blast I was hoping for.

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It won’t be all that long, if this weather continues, before the kids get a bit of cabin fever. Me too. Fresh air in their lungs, sunshine on their faces, running around whooping and hollering and imagining and planning and building and deconstructing and thinking and plotting, all of it helps to get them to sleep at night. Me too. It also helps to prevent headaches. Mine. But there is another problem I am going to have to face.

As proud as I am of Number One, for earning a placement on a leadership course at a nearby marae, run by Nga Puhi, I am going to miss our unofficial surrogate parent over the next few days. It is a great sounding scheme by Nga Puhi, exactly the sort of thing communities around here need and credit to my girl for being there. Her absence, however, has put the pressure on me.

It isn’t fair on a twelve year old expecting too much of her when it comes to looking out for her siblings. It’s just that she is so damned good at it. Of course there is a fine line between getting Number One, or any of the kids capable of it, to help out now and then, and abusing the privilege. Having a useful extra set of hands around is invaluable at times but I have to be aware not to put all the kiddie care work load onto someone still a kid herself.

She brings a lot of it on herself anyway. Every single time the Wee-Man reaches for her, with that little pleading sound of his escaping that adorable ‘help me’ face he uses to such great affect, Number One scoops him up. It has gotten to the point he will side step me altogether and aim straight for his big sister. As cute as that is, I can see it grates on her sometimes, especially when she has just walked in the door after a day at school. Try as I might to convince Number One not to pick the Wee-Man up on demand, encouraging the idea he will eventually lose interest, she is some sort of sucker I guess. I know how that feels.

Having someone around with a bit of creative flair, some extra energy, a sweet and nurturing nature, someone who can cook and bake and wash and clean or at least help out in the kitchen, is a godsend. Number Two is right up there and when One and Two combine to use their mystical powers with their siblings, I am just about rendered redundant. But it is school holiday time. While extended time in each others company is great for all, I can already see the cracks starting to appear. The dynamic will eventually end up fraught and fractured, even while there will be moments of pure joy and bliss.

Maybe I am being selfish. Maybe I need to learn to be more creative and crafty and arty and a little more understanding that three girls don’t always want to pass, kick and catch, might not be so interested in hacky-sack, can’t be bothered wandering down to the water’s edge just because we can. Perhaps I need to let the imagination free, the way it goes when you are nearly four, see things the way you do when you are not yet two, attack the day like you can when you are not far off ten and nearing thirteen.

Just maybe, I still have a lot of learning to do. I guess these holidays might end up anything but boring.

But, please, come back soon Number One.

 

 

Tut Tut Taika

I like Thor. And the Hulk. Even though one is Nordic and the other green. 

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I don’t like being called racist.

Truth be told, I don’t like being labelled at all, but that one is right up there as possibly the worst. Sexist, ageist, whateverist.

I was born and raised in the south of the South Island. A Southern Man then, all stubbie shorts, boots and rifles and Speights and dogs and utes and blue and gold and each and every other cliched piece of imagery you can conjure. There were all sorts of cultural mixes going on, from surfies to rugby-heads to liberal hippy students and potheads and musso’s and religious zealots and poor on the flats over looked by the wealthy on the hills. Generally, I was just one chubby round white face in a sea of white faces.

But, some of my best friends are Maori (s).

Yes, I said it. Partly because it is true, but also because it is the go to get out for those who want or need an out clause, when it comes to their views on race. That I had and have Asian friends, Oriental friends, Samoan and Tongan and Cook, English and Scots and even Australians, is not the point. The race, creed or colour of who you chose to associate with is not relevant to anyone unless you, or they, decide to make it that way.

What is relevant is the respect we have and show for one another.

I respect a man like Taika Waititi. Even while most likely mispronouncing his name. I, like many the world over thanks to his continued success, believe he is an immensely talented person. Like all creatives, what he presents to the world can be a bit hit and miss, depending on your tastes. It took a second look at Boy before I was hooked, but I could watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople all day and find no liking for it. Meaning obviously, I couldn’t watch it. Maybe he did a great job with the Thor thing, don’t know, maybe not. Haven’t seen it. The vampire stuff lost me.

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Taika Waitit’s views and opinions are just the same. A bit hit and miss.

Like all of us he is obviously a thinker. The difference is, for a guy like Taika, he has a voice. A variety of platforms and soap boxes from which his every word will be lapped up by an adoring media. No one can begrudge him that and no one can argue his right to have a take on things, his point of view.

But like everyone, his perspective is distorted. It is impossible for anyone, anywhere, anytime, to be completely subjective. Doing so simply would not be human. We are a haphazard bunch with our emotive input and output. We can be vitriolic one moment and stunned into silence the next. We are full of pride or shame or righteousness or uncertainty. So Taiki, not for the first time, has made wide, sweeping, generalised statements. Emotive statements.

I don’t know how or where Taika grew up and nor do I know how that may or may not have had a lingering affect on the man. Where I was raised, more importantly educated, there was not a single thing culturally relevant to our very own New Zealand/Aotearoa in school. We did World War Two in history, which certainly had a huge role to play in the identity of this nation, but it wasn’t until I was an adult I ever heard of the New Zealand Wars. I could learn French or Latin. Not Maori. I wanted to speak Spanish.

Electives meant I could study the history and culture of ancient Greece, formative stuff for the entire western world we now live in. But Hone Heke taking an ax to a flag pole sounded like pure myth. And who knew it wasn’t a one time deal…he went back four times!

I have been to Otakou Marae many times. Down there on the ‘Otago’ Peninsula they would probably still cringe at the way I pronounce it. I hate to think what I sound like to the folk up here in the mighty Hokianga. But it’s okay, I have kids, the next generation, to set me straight.

Maybe I am not the target of Taika’s rants. I hope not. As a family we make the attempt to nail a bit Te Reo and as part of our colloquial vernacular, there is a surprising amount of the Maori language in our everyday. So I try, just like I did in France, Spain, Portugal, and even Scotland, an impossible language to comprehend after a pint or two. I am told it is English but am yet to be convinced.

If a local mispronounces a place name, because everyone does and always has in his or her time there, is that their fault? No. Is it their responsibility to try and change such a cultural misrepresentation? Partly.

The French insisted on calling me Michele. Michael in French. Irritating but I wasn’t about to change much in my time there and would have needed to care more. However, I did my bit. When I met a Guillaume I called him such, trying my best to repeat it the way it had been said to me. I didn’t call him William or Willy or Bill. The Irish called me Mik (ironically?), Eastern Europeans Mikhail and virtually no one Mike, the way I say it. I answered to all and anyone.

The cheese eating, wine sipping, bread baking Frogs also referred to my home land as  Nouvelle-Zelande. I think of myself as from Aotearoa.

Land of the wrong white crowd?

 

 

 

You

Just be yourself.

So easy isn’t it. Once you know how. But self-awareness, and the ability to identify and be comfortable in that awareness, is not an easy thing at all.

It takes a heck of a long time to try and figure out the person you are. Not the one you portray to the world, or the person you want to be, the person you feel others are expected, the one everyone is saying who you should be.

I’m talking about that guy or gal in the mirror, the one you catch a glimpse of just before you realise someone (you) is watching. A snatched, corner of the eye moment when the guard is down, when there is nothing going in your mind about from all the things that need to go in order to sort you out for the day.

You all know that face. Your face. Slightly disheveled, straight out of bed hair, puffy ‘I don’t want to be open yet’ eyes, mouth agape in a yawn which releases the breath of rotten seal, wrinkling your nose as your nostrils are tainted by your own foul stench. You are probably scratching your arse at the time, on the way to the bog for that morning, clockwork, constitutional. Maybe you are itching at your nutsack, knowing any minute a stretch will attack your entire body, creaking and cracking you upright in preparation for the day to come.

Many of us are used to seeing ourselves like this, all of us. Some don’t care, give their appearance no further thought, are comfortable with how they look regardless of time of day or state of undress or lack of manicuring. Others would never be caught dead until showered and product in their hair and faces on and moisturised and teeth sparkling white and all the rest. For a lot of us, putting the face on each and everyday has not so much to do with how others might see us, but how they perceive us.

Wee-Man is not all that far off turning two. He is a robust little bomber of a boy, covered in all the scrapes, bumps, abrasions and bruises of a young dude furiously and fastidiously exploring his surroundings. The youngest of our mob, it is not a case of him trying to keep up with his older siblings, more a desperate attempt by them to slow him down.

And if he wants to do all of it in dress and tiara, then damn it he will.

His sister, E-Bomb, Weapon of Mass Interruption, has developed a fairly particular style and sense of fashion in her tender years to date. With two older sisters, I have seen all that play out already and outside of the odd individual quirk, there are few surprises. At her age, practicality isn’t always high on the list so a trip to the library on a hot summers day in gumboots, isn’t out of the question. Singlets and vests in the rain, tights to the beach. None of it matters. She is happy and is allowed the freedom to pick and choose. We have a climate here which let’s her get away with most of it and let’s be honest, I am not really the best person to judge whether or not stripes should be matched with hoops.

So if the Wee-Man sees a dress he likes, damned if he isn’t going to wear it. If that printed shirt several sizes too big, resplendent with pink roses, is going to be his thing for the day, or at least until such time as he makes a banana stained, muddy, tomato sauced mess of himself, then all I need to ensure is that he rocks it.

The only time you will ever see the fella uptight and concerned about what he’s wearing is when a sleeve gets caught, hampering his progress at whatever task he has placed all of his short attention span into. He may get frustrated at a full nappy, or having to wear one in general. He may want to wear boots and shoes which haven’t for fitted him for a while or are unlikely to for several years.

Wee-Man looks snappy in a cycle helmet while having a book read to him, debonair in a life-jacket bouncing on the trampoline, and positively sharp in his Mother’s heels in the vegetable patch. No doubting the little dude is a trend setter extraordinaire and there is not a moment when he doubts himself (in fact there are many…realising the heels are not much good on steep grassy banks has been a rolling, tumbling, learning curve).

There is no pretension. No pressure, external or otherwise. There is no mask, no facade. Nor is it freedom of expression, or self fulfillment or an abandonment of society constraints. It is freedom, at it’s truest and most earnest. What the Wee-Man decides to wear he just does, from felt-tip fingernails to crayon lipstick, top and no pants, pants and no top. Not a stitch.

It is the freedom to express himself beyond what he wears that is the true magic growing older forgets. Random yelling, growling at a fly on the wall, pointing at one thing or another which have no bearing or relevance.

Jumping. Just because he knows how to jump.

 

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Like everyone, Wee-Man can get frustrated when he isn’t understood. He has several words in a rapidly expanding vocabulary. Stringing them together is an art which still eludes him. He gesticulates widely and is very adept at getting his message across,. He is also quick to move on if he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t care.

Of course Wee-Man doesn’t care. He isn’t yet two. He is fed, clothed (sort of) and nurtured and loved and stimulated and all the other things that are supposed to be happening for him at this time in his life. What on this big fat Earth is there for him to worry about?

Hopefully, in the fullness of time, bugger all. Ideally, my son will cruise through life ticking all the boxes he has identified as in need of checking. All my kids will succeed in the manner they identify as appropriate, in the things they recognize as success. I wish them luck.

And I hope too, when they catch that morning glimpse of themselves, they don’t take a snatched second look. I hope my daughters and son don’t give that person in the mirror another moment’s consideration. I hope they scratch and poo and brush their teeth and get on with their respective days. Because I don’t want them to be searching for themselves or the person they want to be.

The only way to identify with yourself is to forget the person you are, as you see yourself and certainly as you think others might. And while you are at don’t try and recapture that Wee-Man left somewhere in all of us. Don’t force it, don’t try and make yourself spontaneous. A search for freedom is the biggest trap.

Just try painting your lips with crayon, coating your finger-nails in felt-tip, donning your favourite flowery shirt, stripping off your nappy, slipping into your Mum’s high-heels and go yell at a spider.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance

It is a hard enough job teaching the next generation what is considered acceptable, when we still don’t know what to accept in and of ourselves.

 Sex and sexuality.

Just by  banging two words like that down, you can garner a headline or two. Start questioning gender, gender roles, take a look at something kinky or a fetish or delve into fantasy and before too long, you find you might have fired a few people up. In more ways than one.

Dominatrix and Submissives  and all that, so de riguor for a moment there, what with the Fifty Shades fixation. As tame as those portrayals were, they were at least a vessel for opening a few minds and mouths, starting conversations around cafe and dinner tables, in our main stream media, which might not have happened so readily otherwise. I succumb to the hype around that story. The fact I found it a dull, forced, passionless, prescribed read unable to drag me passed a handful of chapters, doesn’t preclude the fact it grabbed the worlds attention. Question is, did it need to?

 

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Tame and lame. Fifty Shades titillated the press and in a country like New Zealand, so open and forthright and honest and earnest on the one hand, a book like that took many things out of the bedroom and placed them firmly in the limelight. Apparently, as we were told, our eyes were being opened, our minds expanded.

One the other hand, while some New Zealanders flirted with the idea of wild, crazed, mad passionate love making, testing boundaries and opening now pathways to pleasure, others were handed a gilt-edged opportunity to huff and puff for a whole bunch of different reasons.

To many folk, topics like sex and sexuality are controversial. For all the enlightenment a country like ours displays, there is no getting passed the fact we have an aging population and with that, an inherently conservative one by modern standards. That isn’t to say the old and elderly are not as willing and capable as the next person of changing and adapting. I like to think attitudes to all manner of things ‘new’ or at least more widely and openly viewed,  are fluid. That as a supposedly better informed populace we are more open to sensible, intelligent, questioning and debate.

LGBT and what ever other labeling letters are thrown in the mixing bowl, the cake mix of life. We are handed those labels. Fed them. Perhaps some are derived directly from the communities they are intended to be descriptive of. More likely they are catchy little phrases and terms heard and leaped upon by a scribe here, a journalist there, a blogger or opinion piece writer, an internationally best selling author.

The questions and so called issues around sexuality and sex, around gender and all the rest, are deemed controversial because we are told they are. Articles and opinion pieces roll hot off the press as if they are scheduled. “Time to wind the populace up again”. A cynic might have you believe it was a deliberate attempt to divert and obfuscate. A conspiracy theorist might make you want to consider the concept of an agenda. Driven and motivated by who or what I have no idea.

The thing for me, the ‘every-man’, is I would never give these things any thought at all. Not a moment of contemplation, not a time to pause and reflect. The sexuality and the sexual practices of others has absolutley no bearing on my life, the lives of my family. Until it is force fed on a regular basis by mainstream media outlets. Paraded as such, like a winged, hairy legged fairy on Auckland’s man drag once a year.

We are told we need to accept. Told we need to be more open and tolerant, less judgmental. Quite apart from the fact it is human nature to judge the actions of others, why am I having it dictated to me what it is and isn’t I should have opinions on?

I could care less if you fancy a hook up with another woman, another man, two men, two women a whole bunch of them all carrying whips and chains and wearing masks made out of natural fibers (read leather) or slick shiny synthetics. If you like to tie people down, be tied, strangle them, tickle them, be tickled, humiliated, exposed, damn near tortured before you cast your mind back for that agreed upon safety word, then woohoo for you.

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If I am into any or all of that, or none if it, isn’t relevant to you and nor is it going to feature in any part of my life if you are. Writing it down in newspapers and flashing it across our television screens robs people, the young in particular, of the opportunity to learn, explore and develop their own thing or things, in their own time. We moan about the porn culture, then offer a softer version we are told should be socially acceptable. We tell people they are prudish and close-minded, then tell them what they should be thinking and feeling. By trying to open up everyone’s minds to the realities of what goes on, or not, behind closed doors, we are removing the mystique, the fantasy, the taboo. We are taking away the titillation and normalising all the things which apparently what set us apart. In our rush for mass acceptance, we are categorising everyone and the things they do, forming a great big lump of mild-mannered numbness.

Go mow the lawns. Wash the dishes, scrub that ring off the bathtub. Mundane tasks which allow the mind to wonder. If you end up mentally counting keys in a bowl or musing over how many colours gimp masks are available in, cool. If you are worried about the price of petrol or Myrtle Rust, that’s cool too.

I don’t care.

Neither should you. Because I told you so.

 

 

 

 

 

Donations Gratefully Accepted

There is more suck in an octogenarian with pneumonia, than there is in our vacuum cleaner.

A fourteen year old school boy pulls harder than our car. More cushioning on a fat girl’s thighs than on our sofa.

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh on the sofa. It is lasting pretty well, considering the inconsiderate attentions of four children and a Dad, who falls asleep there after too many attempts to sit through late night rugby games he isn’t invested in or watch movies which struggle to hold his interest.

I’m sure you  get the point. We are at the stage in life where it all needs an update. From the knife set which will no longer hold an edge, the mixer which smokes every time it is operated, the rusted this, bent and barely operational that. Almost everything we have, the bigger ticket items, were purchased all those years ago when Wifey and I first set up house. We met in London, a story in that chance encounter in itself, while both on our Big O.E’s. The two of us eventually arrived back in New Zealand with literally little more than packs on our backs. Starry-eyed lovers, keen to get about setting up our love nest.

Credit this, hire purchase that. Tables and chairs and couches and desks and beds and mattresses and a car and dish racks and utensils and towels and pillow cases and some of it wears out in time, replaced as a natural course of things.

The bits and the pieces. Easy enough, grab it at the supermarket or the Warewhare or a seemingly never ending Briscoes sale. But you don’t go out and just grab on the fly the dining set you have outgrown, which happens to be occurring at the same time as the car is dying. In collusion with the television and the sometimes functional but no longer loud sound system. The lawn mower smokes like a reggae musician and drops more oil than a careless Saudi sheikh.

Our bed squeaks an unjustifiable amount given the lack of activity it receives.

I’m not bad with a spanner, can handle a screwdriver. A mixture of brute force and ignorance can get you further than you might think. Coercion and patience saw a washing machine limp along years passed it’s used by date, but I can’t make the dryer warm. Well maybe I could, I know it is just the element after all. But, as much as I fancy myself with a tool or two, I am better suited to pulling stuff apart as opposed to putting it back together.

So here we are, surrounded by next to worthless junk. A pile of virtual crap best loaded into a trailer rapidly succumbing to the ravages of time, and hauled off to the tip.

The big ticket items. As decrepit and broken as the guy who owns them. Better management when we set up would’ve meant we might not be in this spot right now, drip feeding non-existent savings into fanciful ideas we can have bigger and better. Or even just operational. A chest freezer to replace the dead, smelly one. A fridge we can actually fit a week or two worth of groceries for six in. Time to rebuild and restructure. A daunting prospect.

Wifey earns well and we don’t have the expenses many others face. I’m the day care, though quite possibly I come at a much higher cost than your average Kindergarten. Our lifestyle is far from extravagant, because it can’t be. As good as the dollar my wife slaves for is, with a crew of mouths to feed, the bills we all have to dig deep for, we are a hand to mouth, pay cheque to pay cheque operation.

We don’t have 9 cents a litre to spare.

 

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Long Time No See

A lot has gone on of late and not a thing has changed. 

The sun is still shining.

I am starting to wonder if it will ever stop, but these last few mornings mist has been touching the still, glassy waters of the mighty Hokianga Harbour. It is almost impossible to drag your eyes away from the dreamy views sitting right at our back doorstep.

But dragged away I have been. All the things so mundane, so everyday, have proven the drag. Then the rounds of illness and poor health. Top all that off with a bout of malaise and a thriving streak of laziness and here we are. So far down the track with barely a word said. I even flirted with the idea of getting a job!

Nothing much has inspired me of late and there hasn’t been a great deal to rile me either.

Apart from ten million dollar roundabouts.

Shane Jones and his billion dollar regional fund. As cynical as I am, jaded and mistrusting, I am sure there will be many positive outcomes from the government opening its wallet in places long overdue a spend. I sincerely hope a fund of that magnitude, earmarked for projects designed to breathe live into struggling communities, will find it’s way, most likely in dribs and drabs, to the areas it can be of most benefit.

I don’t know. How about a footpath? Something my kids can utilise on their way to and from school. They don’t need a roundabout at the cost of millions, to satisfy tourists and the fancy of a white middle-class who surely can’t be that inconvenienced.

Even over this side, millions earmarked for a cultural center in Opononi. Cool, anything and everything to celebrate the rich cultural history of this part of the world, so entrenched as it is in the birth of this nation both Maori and European. It is vitally important the local populace, the wider New Zealand community and yes, tourists, have the opportunity to be immersed in our wide and varied history of settlement as much as is possible.

No argument there, right?

Except when you start to make comparisons with the things this community, this region and so many more like it, are missing.

Yes, footpaths. Playing fields and sports clubs. Playgrounds and recreational reserves. Roads free of potholes and verges cleared , adequate street lighting and domains for the people who live here to congregate and meet and grow as a community. All manner of infrastructure, maintained and supported and allowing for growth and a sense of well being to battle the stagnation that seems to hang like a pall over much of rural, regional New Zealand.

I know much of this falls on regional and local body authorities. Here too, Iwi need to make their presence felt. The thing is, with minimal population bases, there is only so much such bodies can do. Certainly, there seems to be a lack of motivation to do much and not a great deal of desire to commit to options which may hit their bottom lines long term. Understandable maybe. Disappointing and short sighted certainly.

Fair to say if all those bits and pieces were of real concern, we would not be living here. Somewhere more metropolitan, housing the type of extra curricular stuff you would expect from city living. So eventually we won’t be. Living here. We will be forced to move on, so we can better cater to the ever expanding curiosity of our kids.

We are blessed we are able to so. My wife has a career path she can follow and yes, if I must, I will return to work. We will, particularly me, be sacrificing lifestyle, not to mention turning our back on a community desperately in need of the likes of my wife and our beautiful children sticking around. People like my wife, in her role, can shape and influence, to a degree. People like our tamariki are the future, of that there is no question. They are the ones who will inherit and the ones we will have to pass responsibility onto.

So come on Shane. Come on Labour. Help us leave something worthwhile. Something tangible, things which will mold and shape and guide and influence and prosper. It starts with footpaths, a route tamariki can place their feet on and begin their journey.  Put the dollars into encouraging community involvement, driving progress and parenting change.

Sports clubs and the facilities which go with them. Fairs and fetes and jamborees and galas and exhibitions and all things cultural and festive. Maybe a new roof on the community hall, maybe a repair to a boat ramp, street lighting, parking, beach side bbq areas, sealed roads…all things locals can highlight and get involved in.

How about state sponsored beach cleanups? What if communities were armed with the equipment, courtesy of the government, to set about cleaning up their own backyards so to speak? Give a bloke a weed-eater, a few litres of petrol and a date. See you there mate, down where all that Pampas is growing…all that gorse all that broom all that elephant grass all that sycamore all that whatever it happens to be and whatever it is needed to get rid of it…knapsacks and sprayers and P.P.E and boots and overalls. Most important, all that know how and a little bit of motivation.

I guess I am saying let’s put the money into pride. Let’s invest in hope. How about we give the regions a chance at the same level of comfort and convenience, or close to it, as they do in the urban centers. Making life easy, easier at least, makes for better chances, better option taking and decision making. Lets not put too much money into going around in circles.

Then maybe, our tamiriki can have their minds on their futures. Not on where they are putting their feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La la la

You can say everything needed with la la la. As long as you mean it.

I sat myself down on occasion of late, diligently displaying the best of intent. However, while the day gets warmer, muggier and eventually wet, I realise I needn’t sweat. Even as I sit here chaffed and dripping.

But enough imagery of a chubby, balding, 40 something bloke wallowing in pools of his own drenching. I was wanting to, as I swam the pond of sweated quagmire, put something out there others might want to read. Something light and comical, or satirical, or darkly observant, witty and wordy. Perhaps a challenging blog, striking at the virtuous core of a middle New Zealand, or prodding those below to rise up. Maybe I could open the shutters on the cloistered, but sweetly air-conditioned, non-sweaty one percent, an expose so shocking, so revealing my balding mug, sweated brow and all, will most likely feature on Time Magazine.

Flustered and flummoxed. Like a middle aged woman, recently divorced, spying her first ever male stripper at her nieces hen’s night. Hot and wet. The weather has everyone a little frazzled, a fine sheen of ‘Christ when is it gonna stop’ smeared across each and every brow. Today is a blazing glory, but does that mean I am blazing with it. If I couldn’t manage an oppressive pall over my masses of followers and associated readers, then how am I going to leave vapour trails of glory across azure skies?

I’m not. Plain and simple, I don’t need to have my name in lights, my words written in the sky. I don’t blog for fame and fortune and I don’t seek notoriety.

I certainly could. There are plenty of subjects, big and small I have decided, since I began this caper, to intentionally neglect. There are issues, from controversial to first world, localised idiosyncrasies or a splayed big picture problem, all of which I have left by the wayside, as I rocket through the world of home husbandry. Even as paradise surrounds, the raw reality of the big bag world never fails to present.

Our stunningly gorgeous location may look the part from the inside of the window pane. Looking in can be a different story. My wife, privileged to have unfettered access to peoples homes, an intimate months long snap shot of their lives, can come home with horrendous tales of the things, the situations, the people, she encounters.

At the small local school, yet to be treated to the modern idea of how a school should look and feel, thankfully, my kids have encountered racism. Mild, lower end of the scale stuff and technically, reverse. Yes, that is right, our sweet and innocent little whities have been treated differently, adversely, because of the lack of colour in their skin. There has been bullying, particularly directed at our eldest, because she is a cool kid, a popular addition to the place. Jealously has reared it’s ugly head and she has been shunted and shunned.

No biggy. We worked through it. People concerned were open and honest and proactive. That doesn’t take care of the proliferation of weeds, noxious and invasive.

The neighborhood and indeed the greater region, is strewn with Elephant Grass and Wild Ginger. There is the obligatory Gorse and Blackberry and wilding Pines and there are flame trees, with their thorny warning. These plants line broken footpaths, a drainage swale full of stagnant water, battling for supremacy against escapee bamboo. Verges are infrequently mowed, if ever, sprayed quarterly at best…which is worse.

Poke your head into the scrub, to confirm that identifiable object is in fact the discarded mattress you thought it might be. Cars break down and are burnt, shunted off the side of the road, to rust where the paint has been scorched free. Stray dogs take care of most of the rubbish, house hold disposables, that don’t make collection.

Have I painted a pretty enough picture of paradise yet? Yes, I can go for a fish basically from my doorstep. But I can’t eat the shellfish and sometimes they tell me I can’t even swim. That information, courtesy of a randomly placed, faded yellow sign, too small to garner a great deal of attention, does not go down well with my kids. I can bundle those same kids in the car and drive us all to some of the most picturesque, uninhabited, un-visited, coastal and forested spots of beauty and cultural significance.

The roads are bumpy, winding, tight and skinny and bouncy and unsealed and potholed and generally no exit. Just the way I like them. Many tourists don’t seem to be so fond. Can you pick the ones who have traveled the east coast first, the Bay of Islands, with all it’s grey retiree dollar and escapee Aucklander investment? All their vehicles are registered, warranted and are road worthy.

So do I get controversial? Tell a joke or two, to lighten some shock tactics? Do I mine the depths of substance abuse, wreaking stumbling havoc on a community? Do I battle the abusers, both of those same said substances and the men and women abusing each other and the brood of children they have created together. Do I stand up and yell it, the wrongs that I see being perpetrated, the often harrowing results of which can bee witnessed on the worn features of my tired wife at the end of a working day.

We can be a cynical bunch in this country, but we do like a laugh. We will happily poke fun at ourselves and others, often liberal with the threat of offence. But, as I have said before, offence is taken, not given and if you are offended by the things you see and hear, perhaps it is because those things; that abuse, that degradation and poverty and systemic failure, trouble you and the infinity pool world you like to think you swim in.

Sometimes, when you are hot and flustered, flummoxed and frazzled, light hearted poking and prodding just doesn’t cut it. And who needs another white, middle-class, in this case un-educated, keyboard warrior telling it like it is. For a start I don’t really know. I am a kept man after all. And sadly, people like me don’t really want to know. We may snigger and snicker and righteously comment our agreeance, but we offer nothing in the way of solution. So I for one, should shut up. No stomping and shouting, no raising a grumpy, disenfranchised placard waving mob, Hoki Hubby at the head, megaphoned voice waxing lyrically poetic, the strain of tortured passion ringing from my lungs.

Instead I sip a commercially produced craft beer, meat sizzling and spitting on a BBQ over looking the water from our habour side deck, women inside making salads, 90’s alt-rock backing up the waffle I share with my council of local whities, putting the world and it’s woes to rights on the back of an unlabeled red wine or two, a toke here and there, while our young men are killing themselves. We are all killing each other every time we pop out for a drive and we are ignoring the mentally ill, in the hope they will go away.

They will.

One by sad, miserable, lost, disconsolate one. Cracks in systems, as wide and deep as the holes and dips and splits in State Highway 12. Not swallowing them whole. Nothing that comforting. Like a cat, the mentally unwell are toyed with a little first, teased, dangled.

I can smoke a hooter and get quietly pissed under a sun umbrella, kids streaming around me, confident in the knowledge we will not be visited by an agency, a service. People like us don’t get visits from units like that. We don’t need it. Our lives and those of our children might be mildly dysfunctional, but who’s isn’t? Local body authorities are not going to trim the verges at the top of our drive, regional administrators are not going to monitor those polluting our waters. Central bureaucrats are not got to fill the pot holes, feed and house the poor, clothe them and protect them from the elements, treat their illnesses and educate them, detox them, unify and strengthen them. So each and everyone of us appears to be on our own.

And if we are all alone, then we are all in it together. Aren’t we?

So I will sit here and sing la la la. All the while hoping there is someone out there with greater, more in-depth, more analytical lyrical content to offer. The same old chorus I can do, like everyone else, members of a mass choir. If the western Mid North is the tune, the Hokianga the verse, then who is going to play the lead break?

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