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.

Hi-Viz

Give a guy or gal a hi-visibility vest, give him or her a clipboard, give them a badge and you give that person power.

At least, they think that’s what they have been endowed with. The right to control others.
To an extent, that is exactly what they have been given. Some sort of say over the actions of anyone else at a given time and place. And, before I go having too concerted a dig, most of those who take up the clipboard, don the neon coloured vest, are volunteers, doing a service off their own back with the goal of making somebody’s day that much easier, that little bit better.

Trouble is, a little bit of power in the wrong hands can often end up doing more harm than good. It doesn’t take much for someone to become officious, to weld that hi-viz as some form of baton.
Sure, when there is a big event on, a helping hand finding a park can be a godsend, desperate as you might be to get a bunch of crotchety children out a sweltering car. A bit of guidance to find a toilet for a child who just can hang on any longer, directions to a some water, the entry, the exit. If delivered with a smile and a cherry passing comment or two, highly commendable stuff from a generally older member of our society simply keen on lending a helping hand.

Some of these folk, at the more formal occasions – say a sports arena – are poorly paid employees. Maybe it is that pittance of a wage which sets them off, a bitterness at the hand they have been dealt by the wider world and a corresponding desire to drag everyone else down with them, seeing them adopt a holier than thou attitude.
Curt, bossy, sometimes plain rude, it is these types who can can stain a day out with a sour vibe.
I get it. Having your back to the game, the concert or whatever it is, must be annoying and surely takes a lot of willpower, avoiding the temptation to turn and follow the action.
Undoubtedly there is plenty of action taking place in front of you, more so as the event in question goes on. It just seems to me, the more we grow and change as a society, the less we are prepared to allow others to have a little fun and the less we are allowed the opportunity to self-police.

A bit of summer sun. A few beers. All good.
Individuals may get a bit out of hand, yell some silly things, do something sillier. Normally, your mates, your proper friends at least, are going to rein you in, get you to pull your head in.
Sure, it doesn’t take many individuals before a bit of mob rule starts to take hold but even then, the well behaved masses still have the upper hand. A crowd will swiftly and efficiently weed out those it does not want among them.
It’s just we no longer seem to be given that chance.

The Black Caps are not performing. For the estimated 16,000 Kiwi supporters at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, there is undoubtedly more entertainment to be found in the stands, the antics of their mates and fellow tour hopefuls, cricket tragics and  party groups finding their own ways to keep themselves entertained where the likes of Cane Williamson and co cannot.

One of those 16,000 was Jordie Barrett. A young man, noted for being a member of the esteemed All Black squad and a guy who has popped up in the media before.
I don’t know the guy, don’t particularity rate him all that highly as a rugby player but he seems to be articulate, intelligent and comes from what appears to be a successful and loving family.
It’s not rugby season. I’m sure Jordie is training hard but I am also certain he is taking a well earned break from the rigours and pressures of top level sport. Part of that is a trip to the cricket, complete with Black Cap regalia. He has a beer, he cops a bit of attention from fellow spectators because, well, he is an All Black and that is the life he now leads.
Officialdom rains down and poor old Jordie Barrett is ejected from the ground, for what would seem o be no fault of his own.

To his credit, the young All Black makes no fuss and leaves the MCG, under the guidance of Clipboard and Hi-Viz. He is banned for twenty-four hours, after doing no more than what everyone else around him was also doing…drinking an over priced warm beer on a hot sunny day at a cricket match.
Really?!Of course, he won’t have been the first, nor will he be the last, to be ejected from the cricket, or any such similar event under the same sort of circumstances. It is just unfortunate in Jordie Barrett’s case we all get to hear about it, because of what he does in life. The guy has a profile, one he has been at risk of tarnishing in the past and one I hope will not suffer because of the overly officious, power mad officiousness of Clipboard and his mate Hi-Viz.

I get it. There has to be rules and they have to be obeyed. As follows then, what is good for one is good for all and All Black or not, no one can be above said rules.
But rules are open to interpretation. Rules are applied. They can be a fluid thing.
As far as I have seen (not that I have been inclined to watch a great deal of the Black Caps abysmal performance), there has not been bottles thrown, there have not been racist slurs and chants, there have been no pitch invasions.
Sure, Steve Smith got booed. The guy cheated, he got caught and punished. Move on.
Enjoy your typically under-quality over-priced beverage, undoubtedly served in disposable turtle killing plastic. Slip,slop and slap, sing a few songs, have another beer, slip and slop and slap again, try and start a Mexican wave, have another beer and in Jordies case, sign the odd autograph, pose for a few selfies.

Get out and enjoy the summer.
Go where you want to go and do the things you want to do.
Accept a helping hand, graciously.
Hopefully, as graciously as it is offered.

 

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.

 

 

 

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?

Bah Humbug

Great, here we go again! Enforced festivity anyone?

December 1st.
That’s right, for all you international readers, it has already begun for us here in the shaky isles. Christmas cheer, seasons greetings and all that. Time to roll out the decorations, debate the virtues of real or fake trees, start compiling lists of the naughty and nice, stock up freezes and fridges and pantries.
Time for the marketers to bring out the tried and true sales gimmicks, the T.V execs to schedule the feel good factor day after monotonous day, time for parades and the obligatory work do. Time for fake Santa’s at school and Kindergarten’s, dishing out sugary treats and false bonhomie.

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At the end of our street there is a ferry, connecting one side of the harbour with the other. This time of year sees the route trundled by more and more camper vans and glorified station-wagons. There are day trippers, mostly oldies in their hybrid SUV or hatch, taking a jaunt from the other side of the island, where the power of the grey dollar means there is infrastructure, like sewage and electricity and roads without slips and slumps. Where there is employment and houses that don’t leak and aren’t infested with mold. Where there are holiday homes and touristy business and cafes and bars serving on trend craft beers to thirty something guys with tattoos and a beard, trialed by two gorgeous kids, one girl and one boy, accompanied by the wife wearing the hemp top and sarong over bikini bottom because after all, their parents bach is right on the beach.

Before I get too cynical, I should add that yes, my wife is gorgeous, as are my kids and yes, I too have tattoos and a beard. But at forty-five I am not sure if that makes me ‘on-trend’ or a trend setter? I am sure my kids have a firm opinion on where their Dad stands in the fashion stakes though.
And maybe, for me, it is more a case of jealousy, envy, than cynical sneering. While the baby booming holiday maker and their family take in the sights of the stunning Hokianga region, failing to scratch the surface of what life can really be like here for those born and raised to the area, it is the mid-life crises guys that are really starting to annoy me.

I am not talking the quaffed hair, convertible sports car type, demanding latte’s and Central Otago pinot’s everywhere they go. And I don’t want you imagining I am envious of the forty-something independent business owner, through years of hard work, dedication and toil and possibly some creative accounting, able to justify not saving for retirement and instead spending up large on hundreds of thousands of dollars on brand name boats like Stabicraft or McClay or Fyran and then of course, the grunty double cab ute to tow it.
No, the guys irritating me are the motorcyclists, dropping the gears as they reduce the revs, easing down the hill to catch the ferry. Not the Harley guys or the Indian riders or the Triumph’s or any other big thumper you can think of. They are more annoying alighting the ferry and roaring their way up the hill. Anyway, I feel sorry for them, clad in thick leathers, desperately keen to look the part despite the growing heat and humidity that is the north. Good luck to them I say.
It is the fellas on the dual purpose bikes, doing it tough on seats not designed to be sat on forever, battling wet then dry then wet roads on mud tyres, a bundle of whatever strapped on precariously behind them.

Big groups of them. Clubs maybe, a gathering of like minded individuals or just a few mates taking advantage of the warmer weather before the realities of the holiday season kick in and their one chance of selfish, self indulgent, youth recapturing escape, alludes them.
In a semi orderly row, or dribbling into and through town one after another, they come on down the hill, fairing splattered with mud and probably a touch of cow shit, distinguishing marks telling tales of off road adventure and journeys beyond tar seal and highway network.
At low speeds they stand to alleviate tired buttocks, shake hands and feet free to reduce the cramping effects of long stretches at the controls. When the helmets, gloves and jackets are off they want beers and pastry clad treats filled with approximations of meat.
Over their condensated pint glasses, necked in garden bars, flaky crumbs coating their weatherproof layers, the talk is of corners and cambers, of gear and power to weight ratios and holding the apex.
Sure, they are probably a bit whiffy. Despite the manufacturers claims of ‘breath-ability’, these guys sweat. Yes, they probably yell a bit, even the conscientious riders ears dulled by the long term thrum of four stroke engines directly below them something even earplugs cannot dull.
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Back at home there must be indulging wives, quietly plotting their own girls trip, maybe to Bali in the new year, or an island getaway over the winter months. There will be envious work mates and colleagues, elderly mothers who just can’t stop themselves from worrying, mistrusting girlfriends regretting their decision never to learn to ride.
And for me, the whole convoy; from campers to caravans, converted buses with witty and whimsical names like Dreamchaser and Sunset Seeker, to motorbikes and cyclists, represents the beginning of the Christmas, summer and holiday seasons, all rolled into one.
For you it might be the decorations in the streets, the jingles on the radio and in the malls. It might be the smell of the baking and the wrapping and sending of presents. The whole silly season might not hit you until the rellies roll into town and start pitching tents in the backyard or Mum and Dad get stressed one morning, frantically loading the car, dropping the pets off at kennels and boarding houses good and early, in a futile bid to beat the holiday traffic, just like everyone else.
Maybe it the stress etched over the faces of those who simply can’t afford to spoil the kids, let alone themselves. The ones who dread having to take time off as their place of work shuts down, the weight of expectation too much on already stretched budgets. Perhaps this is a time fraught with anguish or loneliness or despair or just a general malaise, around a sense of duty imparted on us because of tradition and religion, ones we may not share, have never shared or have no desire to share in.

But, let’s not forget that there is good in it all, the fuss and the effort. Families can find an excuse to come together. There can be fun in the smiles and the laughter and the excess, whatever and however you make it. We are lucky, here in Godzone; the sun comes out, the days warm, the beaches swell with numbers and the water cools our sunbathed skin, as Dad tends the BBQ, Mum and Aunty do one of those leftover salads they somehow manage to make delicious and Uncle has one too many, falling asleep in a sagging deck chair under the shade of a Pohutakawa .
All good, get into it.

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Somewhere at the back of a wardrobe I have an all weather riding jacket. I have helmet and gloves and pants and all the gear.
What I don’t have, is a motorbike.

Dear Santa…

 

Sorry, How Much?!

Can somebody please explain the ‘letting fee’ to me? 

My wife and I are renters.

A few years ago we sold our home and moved on from Dunedin. A career step for the wife took us up the coast of the South Island to Kaikoura.
A stepping stone move for Wifey and a change of pace for me. A good one, as it turned out. We found an open and welcoming community, good schooling for the kids and a beautiful spot, complete with mountain and ocean vistas. So enamoured were we with life in Kaikoura, we brought another person into the world to share it with us.

The E-Bomb was born in Kaikoura, another home birth. This time, in the second rental property we lived in while we were living and working in that little slice of rugged paradise. Her place of birth, a house we sourced through some of Wifey’s colleagues, was a sort of house sitting situation. The place was on the market and we knew it could sell out from under us at any moment. It did, a handful of months after moving in.
Prior to that we had a lovely older place we found online through an agency.

Despite many of the horror stories out there about rental agencies, we had nothing but a good experience with Harcourts in Kaikoura. We made initial contact online, then via the phone, full of questions and concerns as we were taking the place sight unseen. The property manager went above and beyond, sending a ton of photos through and assuring us the place would be a good fit for us. It was.
Not to say there were no problems. There were leaks and other issues. But with an attentive, communicative property manager and an approachable landlord, nothing was ever a problem.

Life moved on and we did too. Waikato, a little rural spot called Te Mata not far from the equally beautiful seaside town of Raglan, this time on the West Coast of the North Island. Another career move for Wifey and finally, a step towards the type of climate my home town of Dunedin just cannot  provide.
This time we dealt with an agent who did nothing more than vet us and show us the property. From there on we were in the hands of the landlord, a bloody good bugger in the old school Kiwi way.

The first time around we paid a letting fee. The property manager earned it we felt, as it seemed like she as very much in it for us, the tenant, as she was for the landlord, her client.
A few years later and we are set to be on the move again. In those intervening years it seems all the rhetoric around the rental market might be spot on. It seems tight, to say the least, with very few options around even close to suitable. So, with pressure on, the agents/landlords hold all the cards, meaning the likes of myself and Wifey and our crew, are left having to jump through hoops to even get a sniff of a look in.

A myriad of questions to be answered and boxes ticked, much of the information sought bordering on an invasion of privacy, all in triplicate and all done before you are even allowed to view a property!
Why does an agent need to know the names of our kids? Why do I need to provide multiple personal references, when we have written references from previous landlords? Why is our income all that relevant? I could earn a million dollars a month and spend $1,000,001.01 per month.
How about worrying about our ability to pay the rent, when we don’t!
No need to worry, any prospective landlords out there wanting to house our little nucleic family…we’ll pay.

I get that the agent is trying to protect the interests of their client. Understandable, just doing their job and all that. But, there lies the key point. Their client.
A rental agency is engaged by and works for, the landlord. Generally, they will take a percentage of the rent charged. They do the grunt work on behalf of said landlord, ensuring the property is maintained, tenanted, that the rent is paid and the place is looked after.
How come Wifey and I find ourselves doing all the grunting and groaning when searching for somewhere to live, only to end up paying a fee for the privilege?
One weeks rent plus G.S.T, which will work out as a cost of around $550-$600, with nothing to show for it except our own leg-work, our own persistence and perseverance and our own commitment to the process.
Because we need a roof over our heads!

Yes the letting fee is apparently set to be a thing of the past by the middle of next month. Yet, all adverts still state a fee is required, even if a property is not available until later in the month or beyond. I guess the idea is to get you signed asap, thus earning the fee, before handing the key.

Oh well, can’t waste any more time here, I have a home to find. That’s right, a home, not just a house.

Limping Along

Look out, I feel a rant coming on…

Lately, I embarked on a mission. The plan was to get myself into the best physical shape I could.
Not mission impossible, but not far from it. At least, that is how it has felt, for a man rapidly approaching forty-five and essentially starting from scratch.

This was not some random decision. There is, or at least was, a particular goal in mind, with targets needing to be ticked off, within time frames. Suitable motivation and I think greater driving forces than just seeking to look good on the beach this summer. Obviously, there will be accumulated health benefits from getting physical, adopting a regular, intensive fitness routine. Greater fitness and improved health for starters. Good motivational factors too.
Nothing, though, has proven more motivational than Wifey, deciding she too wants to take part in early morning, living room, sweaty madness. We push each other to start, let alone to keep going when the going is tough. (Yes, I have plenty more cliches available)

Coupled with developing changes in what and how I am eating, I hope, with a bit of diligence and dedication, I can start reaping the rewards of sustained effort soon enough. Already the energy levels are up and the weight is starting to come down. Heck of a long way to go, but the ‘journey’ has begun. (I warned ya)
The main thing which provided motivation, which gave the impetus, has gone. Not to worry, with any luck it was nothing more than a catalyst and the rest will prove to be self-sustaining. That is the intent and at this stage, no qualms, no worries.
Although, I wish it was so easy.

I have already whined about my neck,  in a previous blog. I will not go on about the state of my knees, the quiveringly (no more cliches, I am now making words up) weak state of the tendons in my right shoulder, the pinched pain in my left elbow, the parlous state of my lower back. I could moan on and on, and at times I do. Deaf ears of course, such is the lot of an ever longer suffering Husband and father.
Ailments, aches and pains, I’m full of them. The worst of which, as far as I am concerned, is my toe. As innocuous as that sounds, it is the osteoarthritis inflicting the joints in that appendage ,causing me the most difficulty. Pain is just one part. An annoying and troublesome part admittedly, but also there is the lack of a full range of movement to contend with.
Never mind the cause. Never mind the apparent unfairness to have such an affliction at my tender age. What does pray on my mind is the apathy of the medical profession.

ouch

So, I hear you ask, where is the promised rant? Don’t panic, I would never let you down.

Thing is, I feel a little let down. By…wait for it…’the system’. To be exact, the health system.
Why do I feel that way?
Because I can be fixed. Because there are options for setting my toe right. No one can get rid of the arthritis, but they can rip the joint apart and put it back together again. They can fuse the bones, which will do nothing for the lack of mobility in the joint, but will take care of the pain.
I get the health system has to prioritise. Underfunded, understaffed and all the rest. No need to go into that right now, as my perspective is a little different. I am in pain. Reducing, relieving, getting rid of that pain, is a priority for me. Not an emergency. Leave me hanging if the ambulance pulls in, the helicopter lands on the roof. I think anyone would understand a priority call in situations like that.

Thing is, I can’t help thinking pain, great enough to be debilitating, is quite the matter of urgency. So why the reticence? Why would a case of hemorrhoids be considered for surgery ahead of me?
Wait, for all you butt grape sufferers out there, I get it. I too have bled for many a porcelain god in my time.  And yes, the affliction can be, well, a pain in the arse.

The argument from the specialist is there is no proof an injury led to the ongoing problem.  You see a couple of years back I got grumpy with an uncooperative tractor and gave it a good old fashioned kicking. It is easy enough to imagine who won that argument and here I am down the track, limping around the house and swallowing panadol like the stuff is going out of fashion.
Apparently, that run in with a stubborn tractor could have proven to be the catalyst for the underlying osteoarthritis. Or, it could be it was the injury, because believe me the tractor got the better of me, which has since caused the arthritis.

Most likely I broke my toe. Being the stupid hero I am, I didn’t do anything about it until a couple of weeks later, when I was seeing the doc on an unrelated matter. She agreed I had probably broken the hairy, stubby Hobbit impersonator but after that length of time, she recommended getting back to her if it didn’t settle.
It did.
Then it didn’t, now it hasn’t.

I could have my hip replaced. My knee. I think they are even doing shoulders these days. God forbid I will ever actually need to have any of my major joints replaced but the scale of such an action pales in comparison to bolting the bones in my toe together.
It can’t be denied my gait has changed due to the pain, lack of movement and deformation in my toe. Long term, the effects of that change could prove to be troublesome and could very well lead to the sort of remedial action mentioned above.

Which begs the question, why not something preventative now? Why the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach? Surely a little foresight, a little swift, less invasive and far less costly job done now, will reap rewards in the future? Short term loss for long term gain and all that.

My apologies. Think this has become yet another whinge, not the promised rant.