Bliss

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

The Settle Season

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.

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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.

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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.

Slip, Slop and Slap

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.
Repeatedly.

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.

The Naked Boxer

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!
Then…he charges.

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!

toddler-boxer-costume

Wee-Man hits.
Boys hit.
Get over it, because right now, he is too short to duck, bob or weave.

 

 

 

Blissfully Boring.

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?
Blissfully boring.
Magnificently mundane.

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.

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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.
Work.
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! )

 

No Winners

Is that true, what they say..there can be no winners?

On Saturday afternoon, the decision was made to cancel the scheduled round five Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Highlanders, set to be hosted at Forsythe Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

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Media outlets cited the police as saying there were no official fears held for the safety of the venue, its patrons or the players. The decision to call the game off must therefore have been made over sentiment.
Commendable. There is no denying the depth of feeling flooding the nation given the events in Christchurch on Friday. As a consequence, we were all encouraged not to view, share or partake in the filth Tarrant posted online.
Good call. Who wants to see such grotesque violence anyway, despite the ghoulish nature many people have.

So, with one hand we are denying this freak of a human the platform he so desperately sought, yet it seems with the other we are giving him the and his actions the credence they so badly do not warrant.
I have always liked to think sports is impartial. Free of politics or the whims of society and it’s ever changing standards. Just a bunch of men and women and kids running, kicking, jumping, throwing and catching, using whatever level of athleticism required to undertake their chosen physical past time.
We have seen time again how people will always persist in drawing a llink between sport and the wider issues of the world and indeed more and more we see modern sports people wanting to use the platform they have through their game as a chance to weigh in with their opinions.

Cool. I am all for wider debate, for as many voices as possible in any given debate and for perceived role models, such as sports people, making the most of what is a privileged position. Think the statements by TJ Perenara around the rainbow issue as a prime example.
To me, it just seems calling a halt to a rugby game because of the actions of a nutter is out of place. The cricket test to be held at Hagley against the Bangladesh team, sure. There is no way that game could have proceeded. But a rugby game in a different city over twenty four hours later? Out respect for the victims? Really?
I sincerely doubt the victims and their families were giving any thought to any game. All cancelling the game has done is extend the reach of Brenton Tarrant’s actions, furthering his hateful message.

I will admit, there is an element of selfishness to what I say.
I was looking forward to the clash between the Crusaders and my Highlanders. We took them down last season and while I don’t think we were likely to this time around, we were in with a shot.
Under the roof in Dunedin, a big derby match, the night of sporting entertainment would have been a spectacle, the Zoo in action and students and fans reveling in the streets.
The type of spectacle we as New Zealanders are more used to seeing.

Just what the doctor would have ordered don’t you think?

As for the name of the rugby franchise from the Canterbury, Nelson?Tasman region?
I for one, no fan of PC excesses, think it may be time for a change…

 

Innocence and Immunity

Was I naive? Was I blissfully unaware? Was I ignorant? 

The question of immunity is a gnarly one in New Zealand at the moment.
Measles has well and truly reared it’s ugly head as a problematic virus on our shores and re-ignited an immunisation debate, one which never really goes away.

My wife is a medical professional. Her mind works in the way of someone immersed in the jargon and language of her profession and those of the colleagues and others around her. She gets it, all the information. It makes sense to her as she has a mind trained to filter the dross and dredge out the important, relevant stuff.
To the layman, researching your way around the question of whether to immunise or not, leads to nothing more than a headache. Claim and counter claim, fact and counter fact.One study and trial versus another.
But even as a layperson, the evidence seems more than just conclusive. It is undeniable.
Jab your children.

needle

Perhaps I am susceptible to a viral attack such as Measles. To be honest, I don’t really know if I have been fully immunised or not.
One thing I am all too aware of now, I am not immune to the hate in this world.

Was New Zealand ever that idyllic, peaceful, sweet and innocent South Pacific paradise we all like to think of ourselves as living in?
Simply, the answer is no. But comparatively, we don’t have a great deal to worry about and never really have. Not from the perspective I have anyway, looking out from my bubble of family and everyday life.
As a nation, we are not immune to the hatred and vile, violent and disgusting behaviours and attitudes that seem to purvey so much of the rest of the globe. It has reached our shores, this cruelty. This terror.

It is being said we all saw it coming.
Did we?
Not this guy. I was not aware an attack of this nature was imminent. I had no idea, not even an inkling, there were people here in this country mad enough, angry enough, insane enough, low enough and organised enough to conduct such an act as happened in Christchurch yesterday.
Why would they be here? Why would they harbour so much hate, hold such evil in their hearts and minds?
Why would I, Mr Normal, Mr Average, Mr Everyguy, even suspect there was an element of New Zealand society capable of such an atrocity.

Don’t get me wrong. I know New Zealand is not perfect, that elements of our population are dysfunctional, for one reason or another. I know there is poverty and there is racism and there is violence and there is hate. I have seen examples of all of it and I am sure most of us have.
But, imagine the guy in the checkout queue in front of you is plotting, as he waits idly for the middle-aged part time working Mum to pack his groceries.
Plotting the purchase of mutiple weapons and the ammunition to go with them, the chemicals and the materials required to manufacture bombs. Plotting the logistics and programming routes into his GPS, taking note of timing and traffic, parking even.
Imagine that guy is plotting the death of as many as he can get. Imagine all that is running through his head, right as he is smiling at the checkout chick, politely declining a receipt, not having spent enough to earn a fuel discount.
A few days ago I might have been able to put my imagination to musings like that.
It would have meant little more than that. Random musings. A concept best related to another place; the States, Great Britain, Germany.
New Zealand? Nah mate.
Now, it is a hideous reality I am not sure I can fathom.

The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior was massive. It tore a big hole through this country as it did through the hull of the Greenpeace vessel.
New Zealand and New Zealander’s lost something that day. We were left exposed to the ugly truth of the world around us. A world, it seems, we cannot hide from, beneath veils of clean, green forest canopies and golden sand beaches.

That ugly world has spat in our faces again. A stench ridden, filthy, dirty and ugly reality New Zealanders…all New Zealanders most likely…probably never really considered. Or at least had stopped giving credence to.
The French assault on our soil, on our sensibilities, was a long time ago in the context of global conflict. Not forgotten but moved on, shuffled back to the places in our minds capable of reconciling the hideous and the ugly. But the shield of  ‘It doesn’t happen here’ and ‘It won’t affect us’ has yet again shown it’s vulnerability.
Turns out evil does happen and evil will have it’s effect.

But I am not scared. I am not worried and I am not concerned.
The vitriol has already begun and the spats over keyboard comments are well under way.
Soon the talks will be more earnest and responsible inside the chambers of our lawmakers and politicians. Things will change, inevitably and some of those changes will be for the good and maybe some not so much. One thing can be assured, there will be a great deal of debate, a huge amount of reflection and doubt and uncertainty and yes, there will be fear and anger. Hurt. Every single feeling, each and every emotional response, is justifiable.
Will there be retaliation? We can only hope not.
Who do you fire back at? More innocents? More men, women and children, lost in the fog of prayer? Christians? Catholics? The great secular unwashed that is the majority of Kiwis?

I always thought of this country as a laid back, cruisy, chilled place. We are all too relaxed to care a great deal. Aren’t we?
Life is too good to be worrying about hating. If that is your thing mate, good on ya.
And you know what? I am still going to think of this country like that. Of Kiwis like that. We really are inclusive. We really are giving and accepting and understanding and caring and open.

Please, tell me that won’t change.

Redneck Dad

The following content may offend some readers.

Be warned. I sit down on a sunny morning, surrounded by a slumbering household, as nothing more than master of this keyboard. An over-weight, balding, arthritic, white, middle class (I suppose) male. And somehow, I am supposed to be apologetic for that.

Because I am white, older and was born and bred in the South Island, I am racist, sexist, misogynistic, ultra conservative with a big red streak emblazoned across the back of my neck.
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I am the victim.
The victim of pigeon-holing. I have been labelled, my persona apparently so on display, the role I play in society can be summed up at a glance.

We all judge and are all judgmental. I get that. I do it too.
Everyone does and there doesn’t have to be any harm in doing so. If nothing else, it is a protective mechanism, one designed so we find ourselves in the company of like-minded people. An attempt, on the most part subconsciously, to group ourselves among our peers and avoid those with whom we may have some form of conflict. Sure, it is contrived, constructed, part of societal ‘norms’ we are conditioned to accept and rarely, if ever, question.

It means, because I hail from the south of this split nation and therefore my accent is different, I must be racist. It means, because I am of a certain age and skin colour, I must be conservative and materialistic.
It is assumed I am educated, have a job, am not divorced. It is assumed I drink Speights, when the reality is I have been steadily working my way through anything and everything crafty with a medal on it. I still like a cold Speights after a hard days work but given my middle aged spread, quality over quantity is a notion driven by health, as well as budget.
I am supposed to drive a hulking, modern, bright and shiny 4WD I don’t need, while the wife bops around in something eco-friendly, European. We might even have a boat or a bach or a combination of the two. Maybe even stocks and bonds, whatever that means, a rental property or two. Mum and Dad investors.
Our kids go to good schools and always have shoes on their feet and jackets to ward off the rain. They do, I was there when we purchased some of that stuff, but you try getting them to wear their protective layers when they are needed.
Basics, our budget is capable of that at least, even while we are not driving flash cars or taking island holidays.

Essentially, as my hair turns a distinguished shade of peppery gray (ok, what is left of it), because I can read and write, because I can spell and count, because I know how to communicate in full sentences using the English language, as my generation and the ones before recognise it, I must be a National Party voter. Or something like that.
One of my big regrets in life to date, is my inability to fluently speak another language or two, be it Te Reo or one of the romance languages. (If you can’t look sexy, why not sound it?).
No great dramas then. No real stresses. If I all I have to worry about is the my inability to babble away in another language, then there can’t be too much going wrong. Right?
Because, good people, their isn’t. Not really.

 Of course, this process works just as well in reverse. All Maori can sing. All Maori have rhythm and can dance. (I can play the drums, meaning I know and have rhythm, as white as I am, but man you don’t wanna see me dancing!)
Generalisations like this make our little clusters of society struggle to mingle. Instead of celebrating differences, we look to segregate and marginalize and the fault is as much with the so called minority, as often as not. I witnessed it with international students attending Otago University. There was a reticence to socialise outside of the small cultural circle these groups bought with them. If they did, it was with other students from foreign cultures.
New cultures can be daunting. Language barriers can seem insurmountable. Establishing yourself in a new and foreign environment, even if it is just the neighborhood across town, a new town, or on in a whole other island, is no easy thing and of course trying to be a part of an already settled group structure, the new kid on the block, is a daunting task.

We have moved around enough over the last few years to note it is the new kids on the block who have the least issue with the new and the untried.
They don’t see colour like we do, don’t hear a foreign tongue like we do.
Kids aren’t blind and deaf to differences, but they are far more accepting, less concerned about the difference and far more interested in common ground. Play, sport, the classroom are all great levelers and children find their fit in no time.
There is always the loner, the one who doesn’t fit, who stands out via their desperate attempt to do exactly the opposite.
Don’t worry about them until the the teen years and in this country, don’t worry too much. Our loner, social misfits don’t have access to automatic weapons.

Adults find it harder to meet and greet for some reason. Caught up too much, maybe, in the preconceived and the contrived.
Workplaces provide an avenue to find new faces but mostly, it is done through your children, around the school and the community which comes from that. You meet parents, teachers and principals and bus drivers and neighbours.
All these new people might see you as this or that or the next thing. They judge you.
Just as you are sizing them up at the same time. First impressions and all the stigma which comes with them.

Yes, I am Caucasian and I come from ‘regional’ New Zealand.
Yes, I have a level of tertiary education and I have full time employment.
Yes, we own two cars and yes, every now and then we can head out for lunch.
Am I a conservative capitalist? No.
I am a left of center idealist, one who would go a lot further left if I wasn’t cynical enough to realise it probably wouldn’t work.
Am I racist, bigoted, aggressively or even just assertively hardcore in particular view or assertion? No. I am too busy for any deep thought, any particular take on any given issue. Four kids remember. Have I ever mentioned that?!
Am I ignorant or worse, abusive of other beliefs of cultures. No.
Just no.

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Confederate flags and muscle cars and sexist ideology aside, Dukes of Hazard was a cool show. I love pick-up trucks (utes) as much as the next man and will stamp my foot to country music if you’re going to play it.
That school community, those neighbours, will most likely see my wife and me as we are. First and foremost we are parents. Hard working, dedicated family folk.
Just like the ones sitting across from us at any given table, no matter where we came from and how we got there.

 

 

 

Summer Musing

Hot enough for ya?!

Who doesn’t love it? Summer. And a bloody good one at that.
The 2018/19 summer is the first one I have worked in a couple of years and it feels like the holiday I was needing, without realising I was in need of one.
It is too easy to think the stay at home parent doesn’t need a break because, hey, it isn’t like they are working. My time in the crib, hanging with my crew, was the hardest work I have ever done.
Yep, you’re so right. I am too old and too Caucasian for that language.

There was nothing physically demanding about being at home, with a couple of little ones. Okay, a few of the physical attributes females are blessed with might have been handy. A hip or two might have taken some of the pressure off back and shoulders, a mammary gland here and there to placate wayward behavior or appease demands.
I might not necessarily have been fully equipped to deal full time parenting, though I coped. So did the kids!
I managed, in the same way I am not necessarily fully prepared to be as productive as I could be in my new role, but as I had to do being a stay at home Dad, I will learn and adapt and change and ultimately, succeed.

Being at work full-time does not mean I am any less a full time parent. Having a job does not exclude me from being a Father, nor does it mean I am suddenly ignorant of the trials of looking after a brood of kids during the summer holiday period.
The long summer break, for kids and parents alike, is all about prickles on the lawn, falling asleep in the car on the drive home from the beach.
It is trying snorkeling for the first time, testing out the new boogie boards, in waves you might not previously have been adventurous enough to venture into.
It is ice-creams, dripping down your hand faster than you can lick, one ice-block after another failing to quench your sea salt, sandy thirst, it is sweat and chaffing and barbeques and fresh green salads and dozing in the shade, as the birds chirp above and a hot Tasman breeze shifts clouds as lazy as your eyelids, from one bright blue horizon to the next.

The day done, summer is impossible nights, tossing and turning from fear of a settling mosquito, window wide to let in a drift of air no cooler than the heavy, sunscreen tainted wafts you want to escape.
Shut the window, ban the bug, toss and turn regardless, the heat rising from your sun-kissed skin.

For Wifey, summer is popping the cork free of the a chilled bottle of Pinot Gris, darling, a little earlier than might be otherwise appropriate.
For me, summer is a sleepy afternoon beer, warming the grill and waiting for the salads to be near ready, before standing dangerously close to the sizzle and pop of barbequed meat.
Summer is backed by a soundtrack of reggae and roots, the voices of Brian Waddle and Jeremy Coney.
Wifey cruises back to the vibes of Scott Bradlee and his hodgepodge of assorted vocalists and clustered instrumentalists.

Walks beneath a bush canopy, because it is cooler. Dining on the deck, in the shade and a cooler breeze. Indications it is summer.

Romantic stuff. All holidays and white sand beaches and fishing and the clink of bottles rattling together in a chilly-bin.
Of course, summer is stretching the budget, worries over childcare and the threat of behavioural hiccups among the wee ones, as routines are broken down and then suddenly reinstated.
You could worry over the effects of melanoma or the efficacy of your sunscreen. You could fret about what state work is going to be in when you finally get back there, or just how the kids are going to cope with a new year, maybe a new school.
Or…

Take ten minutes laying on the grass in the dappled shade of a plum tree and when you stand up, pick a few fruits for the bowl.
Twist the cap off a cheap Pinot, no one does corks anymore and don’t let that worry you.
Crack the cap on that first afternoon beer and down half the contents in a couple of mighty gulps.
Let the rhythmic squeak of the trampoline lull you, the cry of gulls, Tui, the screech of argumentative, sun frazzled children. Whatever.
Before long, routine takes hold, regathers it’s strength and starts to dominate. I can feel it doing that thing it does right now…

Until then, just because…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Education

Doesn’t sound right does it?

Teaching our kids, the next generation. Training them, giving them the tools they need not to just exist, to cope, but to grow and develop. More.
Yes, teach the children of the nation to be readers and writers, to support healthy minds and bodies and help them explore and inquire. Yes, up-skill them so a brave new world is not a daunting place, foreign and frightening.
Don’t hinder any or all of the above just because paying for a modern education is beyond the reach of many.

We all know you get nothing for free. The user pays.
Rightly or not, that is how it works in our ‘free market’ society. Yet there are some core tenants to the way New Zealand is set up and run, the bill for which is not supposed to be appearing in the mailboxes of everyday you and me.
All the stuff we need in our day to day modern existence, is taken care of. Apparently. Departments within Ministries, run by committees and overseen by appointed officials, answering to our elected ones. From the office junior, to the intern, to the lifer in middle management and the manicured mouthpiece put in front of the cameras if, low and behold, things should ever go wrong.

These are the mechanisms which bring electricity into our houses, bringing light and warmth. Systems are in place to ensure we have water flowing from our taps. Clean, potable water. Infrastructure like road networks, public transport, footpaths and street-lighting and sewage and refuse collection and disposal and recycling and and and…
It is a huge list, and much of the above is the responsibility of local authorities, let alone at regional and national levels. Just wait until you get to central government and start thinking about mammoth sectors like public healthcare. Like education.
Even in a small country like New Zealand, running these three islands, keeping pace with the needs and demands of an ever growing, ever aging population, is no simple task and every step of the way has to be paid for.

I get it.
We pay.
One way or another, our contribution is made, to the coffers of councils and government. Taxes, levies, duties. No matter the label, our income is siphoned off so the things we expect, demand and want, are there for us when we need, want and demand them.
Education is no different.

A big part of the last couple of weeks has been gearing up One and Two for their coming school year. A stand out in that process has been the expense!
Hundreds of dollars on uniforms alone, still more hundreds spent on stationery, a huge part of which are tech requirements like Chromebooks.
I get that wider society is in the midst of a technological revolution, that the way we communicate and the way we work is changing, so it stands to reason the way we learn must change and adapt also.
But, and it is a big, expensive but…at who’s expense?

We are not poor, however, we are by no means well off. Like many working families in New Zealand, we somehow manage to make one end get close to the other, week to week.
That is the thing though, it is a day to day, week to week, pay cheque to pay cheque process, one which leaves little or no room for error, nor is there room for contingencies. You know, rainy days, saving. That sort of thing.
Yes, our kids will go to school, well fed and clothed after a warm and cosy night in beds housed in a leak free home. They will be carrying with them all the bits and pieces ‘required’ of them.
Single items of clothing with three figure price tags and the tech bells and whistles. Then yes, we will fork out for the extras, which somehow never seem to be in a school’s operational budget or fall outside ministry funding umbrellas.

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Because there will be fees.
Because there will be ‘voluntary’ donations.
Buses will have to be paid for, so kids can get to swimming pools and museums and field trips and sporting and cultural events of all sorts and natures.
School camps will take place and there will be this and that required, to make it the sort of experience the one it should be, the one you remember with heavy rose tinting.
It is all valuable, in terms of what our kids get from it, what is given them in return for the dollar value it all comes at.

We will make the effort to ensure our kids want for nothing as far as their schooling and education goes.
It will be an effort. A costly one but something we will do because we feel we must and because we can.
What of those who can’t?
What about the families who have nothing to sacrifice, budgets stretched so thin a ‘fee’ or ‘donation’ is so far beyond them, it is a stress they don’t need, an extra bill they cannot meet.
It is their kids who suffer.
They suffer in the classroom and on the playground. Kids can be cruel and these kids, their families, will not be invisible because they don’t have a chrome book, because their woolen jumper is several generations old, straight off a second-hand rack. Exactly the opposite in fact.c They will stand out like the proverbial dogs bollocks.
Their pride will be hurting too. Sure, there are families out their who simply do not give a shit and they are lost causes, a s will their kids most likely be. However, there are many more, stuck in a cycle of poverty, wanting and willing to the best they can, just simply unable to.

I know funding is weighted, the decile system in place to balance out the differences.
We could debate the effectiveness of such a system all of one of these hot summer days. Doing so won’t put a Chromebook into the hands of our kids. It won’t put food in their bellies or shoes on their feet or jackets on their backs.
So, if you and I are the user, or even if we are not, we are paying.
What are we getting for our money? What are our kids getting?
What was so wrong with blackboards?