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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cringe Factor

Have I fully of come of age? Because now, I am ‘That guy’. 

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day with some of Claire’s family, down in the big smoke of Auckland.
Twenty five or so loosely affiliated kin, together for a laugh and a smile and to share a feed. Stressful for those at the helm, a good time for guests. For me, a headache waiting to happen, even if I managed to survive better than I thought I was going to to.

The hosts have a couple of sons. Great young me, one in his late teens and the other, early twenties. Friendly, open and engaging young people who are a pleasure to be around.
Hanging around with them, as much as you can between long sessions on their phones or in front of monitors, showed up a few things for me.
Firstly, it isn’t hard to work just where I stand physically these days. I am no Adonis, no shining light of what it means to be at peak physical fitness or health.
Wifey and I are working on it. Not some bullshit New Years resolution, not some fad diet or gym membership as good as money flushed down the toilet. A real and genuine desire, over a planned term, to make change, changes which are already happening.
The sad truth is though, I will never again be even on par with a 21 year old, when it comes to energy and vitality. Those days are gone and thankfully, I can accept that.

Other things stand out. I am not into the same cultural stuff; music, movies, I still read…you know, from pages full of the printed word.
The big standout was humour.
I am not going to be so harsh as to suggest younger generations don’t seem to have one, a sense of humour that is, but as far as I could see, it wasn’t readily prevalent.
There was the standard good natured bantering and put downs, over pool tables or dart boards or the obligatory outdoor/backyard games. You know the type, fun for the whole family and all that. It was OK to have a dig, to ridicule or embarrass or try and make a fool of someone. But a one liner?
No. Straight over their heads or seen as a deliberate attempt to offend someone. As for a drop of innuendo? Met with groans of derision.
Sure, a bit of sexual innuendo is a bit lowbrow. Not scrapping the barrel quite like toilet humour might be, but a sarcastic take on what someone else has said is hardly the epitome of comedy.

I tend to get my comedy fixes from the likes of Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr, Bill Burr and guys of that ilk. These are people who like to push a few boundaries, tell it like it is and have no compulsion about stepping all over people’s sensibilities.
I have heard Jimmy Carr say offense cannot be given, only taken. While I appreciate the reasoning behind such a statement, I get that deliberately trying to provoke a reaction is treading on dangerous territory. The whole ‘too soon’ argument for example, as guys like the aforementioned are quite topical with their material.
Timing and delivery are the key with humour apparently. If you are going to drop an off the cuff one-liner, you need to be as quick witted as you are alert and aware. It takes a level of intellect, even if your humour is cheap and crude.
Gauging your audience is key too I would assume. Everyone reacts differently and if you get a group offside, you are never going to get them back. A mob mentality and all that.

It seems a group of young men, aged somewhere between late teens and early twenties, are probably not my target audience. I am not saying I in anyway offended any one and in no way did I try to.
Yet the ‘audience’ plays it’s part too. The more these guys groaned, rolled their eyes or made derisive sounds and comments, the more I was inspired. While they got more laughs among themselves from put-downs, snide comments and cheap shots, shaming each other, I happily carried on dropping a line here and there, many of which I was becoming fairly certain were not going to go down well.
Which meant, they went down really well.

Does it sound strange that it felt good to be ‘that guy’?
That I was able to find the line others were not prepared to cross, so I could leap gleefully over it?
I guess I ran the risk of coming across like a jerk but the reality is, as far as those around me of a similar age bracket to me, I was only saying what most people were thinking.
At least, they were thinking it after I said it.

Future generations are getting taller. Younger people are developing physically, more so than those of my age did. Conversely, many of them are not using that physicality, preferring back lit screens and monitors.
What entertains those who came after me is changing too. Their levels of tolerance are different. At an age when they should be testing boundaries, threatening my sensibilities, it is instead them doing the cringing.
Is that the way it is supposed to be?
I don’t think so.

The next generation are the ones who are supposed to shock, to test the norms and boundaries and to change the parameters. They are the ones who are supposed to challenge current standards and seek to establish new settings.
Each generation should stand up to the things they feel are oppressive, should fight the good fight and all that. Our kids should break the rules we set, as we broke the ones set for us.
Is it the fault of political correctness? Have following generations become too sensitive, too aware of offending the sensibilities of others, one minority or another, one marginal group or another?

 Or maybe I should just stick to dad jokes.

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Party Like It’s 1999

No, wait…Prince is dead. 

So many have passed and gone over the last couple of years, the icons and cultural leaders and luminaries of a generation. Such is the way with the passing of time and all that. It isn’t for me to wax lyrical about the influence many of these people exuded and how I, for one, feel their presence isn’t being adequately replaced.

Who is next, as the mouth pieces of a generation? Donald Trump has taken the spot left by Barrack Obama, a man who was an excellent orator but maybe missed the opportunity to really say something. And who are the pop-culture icons making the differences to the way we laugh and sing and play?
Where is Madonna and Michael Jackson? Where is Prince and Deborah Harry and Elvis Presley, where are the likes of Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie and Ghandi and Che Guavara, people that did it differently, did it, whatever it might have been, their way because they felt it was something which had to be done.

Right or wrong, there were iconic people doing and saying iconic things. JFK, Phil Spector, The Beatles, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hunter.S.Thompson …you could compile a never ending list.
Banksie? No doubting the creative genius, but an influencer? Al Gore? Yesterday’s news? Zuckerberg? Jobs? Gates? Tim Berners-Lee?

No doubting the impact such people have had, over generations of us now. I only question the type and scope some of this power, particularly of reach, has. To mind, the best thing, is to bring the major influences over future generations, closer to home. Back home.
Let Mum and Dad be the people who guide and train and teach.
Let Matua and Whaea and Mr and Ms, mold and shape in the classroom.
Let little Jimmy and Sally develop social norms and strictures in the playground and the park.

We, as a people, as a society, are changing and developing at a pace I struggle to comprehend. The technological revolution has been with us for a while now and it is a wonder if we were really ready for it. The way people interact, particularly the way they communicate, has changed and continues to do so. The world is suddenly a smaller place and terrifyingly, has become a whole lot bigger.
A good thing?
Certainly a new thing and tomorrow, new again. No good shunning it, no good turning your back on it. Change happens, whether you are a part of it, a builder of it, or a blocker.

Apologies. I am rambling. What has all the above got to do with partying?
Nothing really, but you can bet, as 2018 rolls to a close I will be sitting back on the deck, watching the last day of the year fade away, I’ll have a silent lament for those who have gone.
The next beer might lead to a red wine, which make take me to a scotch, which will take me to bed maybe long before midnight, such is the party life of a father of four young-uns. No matter what Prince tells us about end of era parties.
One place that beer will take me, is to thoughts of the coming year and the years beyond. When you have a brood of kiddies it is hard not to think of where they will be and just as importantly, how they will get there.
Their mother and I can only take them so far. Eventually, we are not the infuencers anymore. Nor are their teachers or junior sports coaches and tutors.

Muddy Waters, The Clash, the idealistic ramblings of Fidel Castro, influences over me as a younger man. Frankie Boyle makes me think and laugh these days while the biggest impact on how I live and think and act comes from my wife and children. Just the way it should be. A positive set of attitudes and personalities.

All I can hope is my wife and I are getting it right. Our influence so far, as the year closes, seems to have gotten things pretty spot-on. It pays not to question too heavily if what you do, say, think and act out is a good or a bad thing.
Most likely, like it or not, it is a combination of the two. There is no such thing as perfection and there is no way every little thing I do is of value or has any particular use.
As our kids grow, learning to think for themselves, they will employ a filtering system, finding the gems among all the dross. With a little more hope involved, ideally there will be less and less dross.

Go ahead and make your resolutions. Make 2019 the year you achieve all the things you want to, need to, feel you have to. Make it the year you actually do, instead of say.
I will resolve to keep doing, more or less, what I have been.
I want to be fitter, stronger, smarter.
I want to learn and grow and develop, the same things I want from and for my kids.
I want to be healthy and happy and I want to not be left wanting.

For me, for my family, 2019 is a time of change and a time for hard work.
New pathways and opportunities. Horizons. All of that and we are going to have to identify what we want, then set about achieving it. As individuals, as a team, supporting each other and backing each other up.
Living in the now but eyeing up the future.

Have a good party, even if it is just a party for one. Make it fun, special.
Invite Prince, he can be the DJ and we can all party like it is 1999.
Or whatever year your mind wanders too.
Get sunburned. Go swimming, drag sand onto the carpet when you get home.
Knock back a cold one. Or two, whatever is your tipple. Crank the BBQ, get together with loved ones and mates, tell some tales and yarns and lies and do it all with a smile.

End the year with a laugh.
Start the the new year the same way.

 

 

 

Dish Drying Dreams

Soapy detergent suds and a setting sun, to the backing track of the Smashing Pumpkins. 

I hope everyone has a dishwasher.
Here, at my place, unless I can convince the girls it is their turn, then I am it. The Dishwasher. Not Harvey Keitel The Cleaner. Nothing as cool as that for me.

So I have to improvise. Tonight, the motivation I sought to stick my hands into the soapy sud kingdom of the kitchen sink, came courtesy of the Smashing Pumpkins.
Tonight Tonight was the tune as it happens, courtesy of Spotify and a wifi speaker. Thanks too, to a glass or two extra of cheap red.

Years ago, as a teen, I developed one cheesy crush after another. All teens do it I guess and for me, there was a theme. Early on there was Deborah Harry. Quite apart from Blondie banging out disco infused New York punk with a French Canadian twist which thoroughly raptured me, (aficionados will know what I did there) Deborah Harry was a gorgeous, explosive blonde. Fiery and devastating, without quite being bombshell, which would have most likely not done it for me.
There was a dirty mystique to Deborah Harry of the late seventies and early eighties that as a young fella, I could not quite define and still can’t to this day. And, it didn’t stop there. Terri Nunn fronting Berlin, a dalliance with a young Madonna, never going to last, before a flirtation outside the norm with Belinda Carlisle and then Wendy James. Oh yes, Wendy James.
Wendy!.jpg

Of  all of them, only Blondie really captured me and stayed with me. But, there had to be something, just a little thing, that meant more to me than just how this bevy of young songstresses looked.
Madonna had that thing, we all know it. Slutty I think it is called. For a young man, well not yet a man, from the southern most reaches of the world, there was no denying her impact. Sadly, for Madonna, her music didn’t do it for me and no matter how well presented the image, it wasn’t enough.
The same could be said for the Belinda Carlisle’s of this world. A husky sensuousness to her voice sure, an underplayed sexuality which went largely over my head.

Deborah Harry stayed there, the bench mark, seeing off flirtations with crops of newcomers, as an eighties pop explosion did detrimental harm to the world, damage we are still yet to recover from. But Debbie Gibson and Bananarama were never going to cut it for me. Babes to be sure, but where was the edge? Where was the challenge? Where was the musical integrity?
And then there was Wendy James. Maybe not the best vocalist. Maybe not the best songwriter or contributor of lyrics. Maybe she didn’t give the best interviews, maybe she didn’t have the greatest impression on me as a person, an individual, but the woman sure as hell made an impact on me. From my Dunedin-esque teenage perspective, here came a woman who was raw, true and honest and compelling and vital and real and so god damned sexy. Transvision Vamp were no Blondie, but bugger if they didn’t try hard to be, in their own way. I loved them for it.

Later, for a whole bunch of different, more mature, angsty reasons, was D’arcy Wretsky.
Siamese Dream was a piece of music, of art, which captured me.
I wasn’t alone. A seminal album, which managed to more than ‘say’ what a generation was feeling at a certain age, like Kurt Cobain did with Nirvana or the Smiths had done before them. Siamese Dream, Billy Corgan and co, made me feel.
I was a rugby playing, beach going lad. I was one of the boys, even if the guys and gals I hung with weren’t strictly the cool crowd. In reality, we were all cool, because we had each other and that was exactly the thing which made us cool. There was shared moments in time we were all experiencing, in our own ways, even while we were all doing it together.

At the time, early nineties, I was making a serious attempt to not take things seriously. In a way, I hope I still manage something close to that. I mean, I still rock. I let myself go, to the tunes that always did it for me, all the while seeking out the tracks which will do it all over again. My tastes have changed, my motivation has changed, my desires and wants and needs, everything is different yet somewhere and somehow, not a single thing is different.
My kids like ‘old man’ music. Every pop wonder hit they know is tempered by a Free Bird. Every cheesy one hit wonder of the day is countered by Rick Astley. Okay, maybe I am getting carried away. Did I mention the cheap red? Let’s try Heroes by Bowie instead

All that really matters, is while I have my hands softening under the effects of scented detergents, I am rocking out. I am in love with a bass player. I am in love with a grove, with a ‘feel’.
I am incredibly pleased to say I have not lost it. The ability to let go, knowing that no matter how ridiculous I look, how stupid and out of tune I sound, no matter the admonitions of my children, I can still rock like I just do not give a fuck.

D'arcy.jpg

D’arcy Wretsky arguably made a mess of her live, thanks to the wonders of opiates. I can’t say I am where I ever thought I would be, a big part of this being because I never really gave it, life, a great deal of thought. Thing is though, for a time, as fleeting as it may have seemed, D’arcy was my dream girl and she lived my dream. One of them anyway.
She had that moment, her fifteen minutes. Or maybe, a little slice of forever. I prefer to see it that way.
The joy is, I can still live those moments. Recapture those dreams, lost or not, with her. I can do it while I wash dishes, while I vacuum or hang out washing or sit here at a keyboard and make out like I have something worthy to offer. D’arcy offered and we accepted and she drove a wedge into me, placing her right next to Deborah Harry and Wendy James and just because I twirled a drumstick or two years ago, I feel I have been a little, tiny, insignificant part of it and damned if I am not going to rock the fuck out every now and then, just because I still can and still do.

Can you?

Do you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

Creepy

What to do when your kids get spooky?

Culture has been a bit of a theme of late. The 31st of October does nothing to alter that.

Halloween is a tradition that might date all the way back to the Celts, but it is relatively new to New Zealand, courtesy of the the good ole U.S.A.
American television has made Halloween a thing which has caught on here, something that is growing in popularity year by year while some of the older traditions fade.
Something like Guy Fawkes was the go to in my day and while it is still celebrated, if that is the right word for commemorating the actions of the figure head for a band of terrorists, it is certainly not as popular as it used to be.

Regulation and political correctness and rules have sucked the life out of something as explosively fun as Guy Fawkes. Civil authorities still put on a show in many centers and good on them. For me, Guy Fawkes will always hold a special place as my birthday falls just a day or two before, meaning blowing things up in sparkly detonations takes on a dual importance.

All Hallows Eve doesn’t seem to hold the same inherent danger as igniting tubes full of phosphorous and gunpowder. Despite the lengths some families seem to go to in celebration of a 2000 year old bow to the spirits of the dead, said to return to earth on the 31st, no one seems to be worried enough to put a halt to things.
Now would be the time I could enter into a rant about the Americanisation of the western world in particular. How American culture, delivered to us through the television, is shaping and influencing us, particularly our youth culture.

I could, but I won’t.
Sometimes it is just fun. Instead I will share with you the fun my crew had with a bit of dress-up and some clever face-paint/makeup from their creative Mother.

 You have been warned!!

zombie 2

 

 

 

zombie 1

 

zombies

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Culture Shock

New Zealand is a great big little country. 

I am too young to really feel like I was ever a part of a cultural identity.
The imagery was still there, when I was a young lad. Black singlets and stubby shorts and floppy hats and keys left in the ignition and long hot summers and obedient border collies rounding up fluffy white sheep.

Iconic characters like Fred Dagg played up to the image New Zealanders had of by-gone days, people like Colin Meads were the real deal. A time when life was apparently better, easier, more wholesome and safer, less complicated. Probably, maybe, life really was all of those things. Certainly sounds like it, when you talk to the oldies who grew up in prior generations.
Even in my time, memory banks are full of long sandy beaches, tall grasses browned off, home to the chirp of crickets and grasshoppers. Rose tinted glasses or not, I don’t recall there being any real drama or concern, certainly not on a global scale and not really at a national level.
Of course, I was young,  so I wasn’t aware of the ‘big’ issues. By the time walls were being demolished in Germany, I was becoming old enough to appreciate and understand what was going on a bit more and that, coupled with the advent of the internet and truly international media awareness, gave not just me, but every Kiwi who cared to, a greater global awareness.

For good and bad, Kiwis were suddenly aware of the world around us and, with just as many pro’s and con’s, the world knew we were here too. If anyone bothered to look.
Tourism was not something I was aware of years ago, despite being raised on the fringes of one of New Zealand’s tourist hot-spots. As a teen, the Southern Lakes District, namely Queenstown and Wanaka, were the party capitals for us Dunedinites, when it came to New Years celebrations and summer fun. A few hours drive and you were into it.
At the time I never looked up and took too much note of the diverse groups and couples and loners moving through that part of the world. I wasn’t blind to it, but the relevance of it meant little. I drank in the sun with my mates, cooled off in the alpine fed lakes and when we had sobered up and as the sunburn settled, we drove back to our lives in Dunedin.

Look up now and it is easy to see things have moved on, beyond backpacking Europeans and bus loads of Far East Asians. Our towns and cities are full of the sounds, sights and aromas of people and their cultures, from all over the globe. No complaints from this guy, no fear that a potential job has been taken away from me, that the price I have to pay for a house has been adversely affected. I like a bit of spice, colour and variety in my diet, so bring it on I say.

I like some cultural variety too. I like the thought my kids can go to school and share the classroom and playground with a genuine mix of all the ethnicities the world has to offer. The food and the music and the fables and legends and traits and habits and all the rest, from foreign lands, virtually all of which have far longer and deeper histories than ours.
But, when does cultural appreciation reach saturation?

You gotta have it. Awareness of the differences of folk and the things which motivate those differences, is a good thing and cool, especially for our kids to be getting at school and not just from their peers. Cultural activity and participation and awareness is an important part of any curriculum.
The same has to be said of New Zealand’s unique cultural position. Our geographical position on the globe gives us a Pacific identity, encompassing much of Island culture. Not to mention, though obviously I am now making special mention, of our Maori culture.

I say ‘our’ because Maori culture is specific and unique to New Zealand. More or less. Therefore, even for no other reason, we should be celebrating that, nurturing and enhancing and supporting and doing all things necessary to keep Maori culture alive and well and right at the forefront of our lives.
It is good to see local schools here getting heavily involved in Kapa Haka. So involved in fact, my kids are sick of it.

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They now dread going to school and I can’t actually recall a time they came home and told me about the academic work they had been involved in for the day. I get that, with a festival coming up, things can get a little competitive and of course each school, their pupils and staff, want to put their best foot forward.
Shouldn’t something like Kapa Haka be fun? A celebration? My older girls loved it at first, have always been into it no matter what school they have attended. But now, the fun has been burned out of them. That’s right, they have reached Kapa Haka burnout.

Such is the ill feeling towards the song and dance routines, I feel there is a greater chance the performance, come festival day, is going to be flat and uninspired. Three full days a week have been committed to the learning of combined lyrics and actions, over the curse of a number of weeks. Now there is talk of attending the regional’s as well, meaning there is little end in sight.
Meaning too, there is little academic learning taking place.

Sure, this is the final term of the year. The better part of a child’s lessons should well and truly have taken place. Now is the time for polishing and refining, maybe revisiting some areas and tackling the weak points. For a pupil like Number One, this is her final year before going on to high school, surely a time to be looking to take that next step, researching how to go about doing so, in order for the transition to be as smooth and complete and uncomplicated as possible.

I’m from down south. Even between islands there can be quite the cultural divide, but not a division so strong I can’t embrace the beauty and joy of a skilled, practiced and well honed Kapa Haka. But, I want to see that joy expressed on the kids faces, not a pained, tortured tiredness. I can’t help feeling it might be worth sacrificing a bit of sloppiness, a missed poi twirl here, a fudged line there, for the sake of enjoyment.
Embracing cultural awareness, participating in it, should be about joy and fun and laughter and a celebration of new and old, a coming together in mutual appreciation.

Something our kids should revel in, should enjoy.
Not dread.

Be Careful

The two words above are something I do must best to avoid. That is to say, there are plenty of times I take care over my activities and actions. Thing is, I try to care less when my kids are involved.

Pop down to any playground and you will hear those words ringing out, in a variety of intonations and accents. The sentiment is well meaning and invariably accidental. They just come out: When your adventurous little one elects to go up the slide and down the ladder. When your brave warrior engages in a stick battle with little James from around the corner. When your darling he or she is adamant they are a big boy/girl now and ready for the big swing. Invariably, they’re not. Your mouth opens and without thinking, out those two words come. Be careful. Fair enough, you have the health and safety of your little ones at heart. What of the confidence of those precious angels you are so desperate to protect.

Kids don’t realise the consequences of their actions. Only experience teaches that and sadly, there are many who will never learn every action has a reaction, even as they reach adulthood. Fine, those people are responsible for their own problems but we, as parents, have responsibility for and over our little ones. We need to guide them, we need to set limits and boundaries and we need to be there when they fall.

Sometimes that means nothing more than scooping them up after they have crashed over the handlebars. Chances are you saw them teetering, saw the eminent danger and were in the process of rushing over even before they hit the ground. A stumble, a trip, a tumble is all part of growing up, meaning bumps and scrapes and bruises and grazes and all the rest. By the rest, I mean screams and cries and yells and tears and sobbing and definitely, hugs.

We can accept our kids are going to get hurt now and then, through no fault of ours or theirs. All we can do at the point is encourage them to get up, dust themselves off, wipe away the tears and carry on, hoping all the while they have learnt a valuable lesson. Places like playgrounds or even in the great outdoors, it is inevitable. There is going to be a touch of pain and hurt that comes with all the fun and excitement. But what about in the home?

Is your place childproof? Does it have to be?

We are all aware of things like fire alarms and smoke detectors. Life savers and this country, compulsory in all rental properties and mandatory in commercial buildings etc. So, you would think, a bit of a basic step when it comes to ensuring the safety of your family in the home. But, especially when there are little ones in the frame, there are so many other things to consider. You have to prevent access to steps and stairs. You have to prevent contact with heat sources and block off power points and take care to affix tall furniture to the wall to prevent it toppling should your dear little one attempt to climb it. Or, you could do none of that.

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We haven’t. Not in one single house we have lived has myself or Wifey gone around as part of a concerted effort to identify and eliminate any and all hazards potential or real. We do have safety plugs in the wall sockets but it has to be said, not all of them. We did have one of those kiddie proof gates for the base of a particularly steep, winding and frankly quite cool spiral staircase at one property but generally, the other door which lead to the same area was left open. It was a house rule not to leave that door open. As with all rules and regulation, it was broken now and then, mostly by forgetful older kids in a hurry to do anything other than worry about the welfare of their younger siblings.

Having a boy in the mix now has made a huge difference. I don’t know if it has been just our girls, or girls in general, but the Wee-Man is far more inquisitive, far more assertive and far more adventurous than his sister siblings ever were. I am damned sure I can’t decide if this is a good or bad thing, but one thing it is, is different.

He climbs. Everything if he can. He will at least make the attempt. Once at the top, or as close as he can get, he is always keen to fling himself off, whether or not a soft landing can be guaranteed. Is it a male thing, for young ones at least, but he just has to know how things work? If that means putting his face too close to it or sticking his finger in it, whatever it is, then so be it. He runs, jumps, kicks and punches and throws and rolls a whole lot more than his sisters ever did. So far, I say with fingers firmly crossed, it hasn’t done him any harm.

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You often hear it said, ‘it can happen so quickly’. Believe it, because it is true. In the blink of an eye disaster can strike. It wasn’t that long ago I narrowly averted a family tragedy of our own. A simple stroll on the beach, kids paddling and playing, spread across the sand. Just a few paces from me the E-Bomb is in the water, no deeper than her thighs. I look up to see how the Wee-Man is travelling, further up the beach with his sisters. When I turn back to the water, only a handful of seconds later at the most, I can’t immediately see my youngest daughter. My heart leaped, my mind raced but before genuine panic came on, I spotted her.

I will never forget the serenity on her beautiful, uncomprehending face, arms outstretched, as she drifted with the tide, maybe a foot below the clear water.

Two paces and I had her in my arms, safe and splutteringly sound. If the water hadn’t been so clear that day…?

Sometimes, as a parent, you just don’t have control and while you can exert as many checks and balances as possible, shit is still going to happen. I try to look for the balance, make it ‘Be Aware’ as much, if not more, than ‘Be Careful’. Because when a kid is coming down the steps of the slide front on, smiling and concentrating hard on balance, it is done with a sense of adventure, with an experimental curiosity and a challenge. Care hasn’t been factored into it.

I want my kids to be adventurous and experimental and I want them to challenge themselves and I want them to understand that sometimes, it’s gonna hurt. I don’t want a little one to put his hand on the fire place because the flames are mesmerising. Do we have a fire-guard? No. Because we use that word…no. We say Hot, we say Ouchie, we say all sorts of silly little things to discourage and attempt to educate. We also supervise, stay aware and alert and I do my best to dispel any mystique around things.

If a two year old boy is curious about the toaster, show him how it works, tell him it is hot and will hurt, demonstrate if you have to. (Fake it as best you can, just like all those awful health and safety videos we have all seen). Such is the attention span of little ones he will have moved on long before you finish talking.

 

 

 

 

 

Play Time

 It’s not called Play Time any more. Is it still called Interval even?

When I was a kid, way back when, the breaks given during the day, for morning and afternoon teas, was called Playtime. As we got older and advanced through schooling, our get of class and let off some steam moments became known as Interval. I have no idea what they are called now, these release valves, designed I am sure with the sanity of teachers in mind, as much as any benefit which might accrue for the children.

Put whatever label you like on it, play time is what it always was and, I am sure, largely still is. Be it ball games, re-imaginings of favourite movies and programmes, competitive encounters or crafty get-togethers, or just rampaging around on any and all of the equipment provided, play is essentially what is going on. And, it is not something we do enough of.

There is plenty of evidence out there on the benefits of play. A quick google search will reveal screeds of material. And, it isn’t just for the young.

I have to admit I don’t play with the kids enough. The older two are able to entertain themselves and to a lesser extent, the same can be said of their younger sister and brother. The whole play thing stands out to me so starkly at the moment as we are in the throes of the mid-winter holidays. There are sniffles and sneezes floating around and week one started with bad weather. A combo like that has meant cuddling up with movies and hot chocolates but that can only be sustained for so long…two year old boys are not noted for their attention spans.

So when the movie ends, and sun threatens to poke through, I urge the crew to get up and about. It is cool to witness just how quickly they will fall into something inventive and fun, something entertaining and joyful and full on. Our eldest is nearly thirteen and I am proud to say, even as the sullenness of the teen years rapidly approach, she is still able to play. I wish I still could. To extent I can but I just don’t and at times I wonder why.

Imaginary settings with fanciful events taking place. A faked, realistic backdrop, with everyday things occurring, each child and character all of their own making. It might appear frivolous, innocuous or just plain silly but to me, it is a key indicator of just how much our kids are picking up incidentally as they live their lives. Play also seems to be a good indicator of their personalities, how they interact socially and what sort of levels of patience and tolerance they have with one another. A mix of ideas and plans and theories all pool together to find ways to interact with surroundings. Toys and play equipment are to the fore but no more than kitchen utensils, furniture, clothing or whatever is available to make the game, the fantasy, the representation, go to the next level.

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Eventually there is a disagreement and argument. There is a yelling match and verbal altercation. However, it is highly unusual such jousting and jockeying for position will curtail the game. Cafes serving all manner of wondrous concoctions stay open, school still holds classes, farm animals are still fed, including rainbow farting Unicorns. In the vacant, overgrown section next door, huts are made. How and from what, I am not sure. I’m not brave enough to go and find out. When the weather and the ground beneath allows, bikes are ridden and trampolines spring the kids to ever greater heights. There is mud and scratches and bumps and bruises

All well and good. Exercise and laughter and activity. Inside blocks are stacked so they can be knocked over in ever more imaginative and destructive fashion. Books are read, silently or to each other. Screen time is not a thing. They feed and water themselves and I have to assume, go to the toilet actually in the toilet. Again with the laughing, again with the frivolity and the silliness and fanciful and the plain crazy. Fun.

I can’t help feel I am missing out.

 

 

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

‘It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses’

There is nothing more for me to do. My work here is done.

Early this afternoon I sat down with me crew and flicked through Netflix in search of the impossible. In the midst of all the dross, all the unknowns and all the stuff one or the other, or all of us, had seen before, there it was. Like a magpie attracted to something bright, shiny and new, a deep green oasis in a tawny desert, the title stood out like a beacon, luring me in. Surprisingly, there was little objection and before you knew it, we were watching the best movie ever made.

I am sure the title will elude many people, as there is no way of ever agreeing on what is the greatest movie ever. Steve McQueen and co in the Great Escape, De Niro in Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or any other of the many brilliant movies he was a part of. Apocalypse Now, Stand By Me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Deliverance, Basketball Dairies, The Breakfast Club, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (by far the best of them), Bad Lieutenant, E.T, Cool Hand Luke…Just a few of the titles which have grabbed me over the years.

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We could all compile a list of the movies which have moved us, shocked us, informed us or simply entertained us. The real hardship is knowing when to eliminate a film here and there. But, what makes me laugh, cry, sing out or along, think, consider or contemplate, are not the same things which will float your boat. Okay, so we can all agree liking or loving a movie is a very subjective thing. There is no accounting for taste.

For me, there is one movie which ticks all the boxes. Well okay, many of them and even if it doesn’t manage that, I find it pure fun to watch. Over the last few years Wifey and I have tried to introduce our kids to the movies which struck the right chord with us in our younger years. We were motivated by a desire to find films that were just that, not animated, where real people were acting and were therefore more relatable, where story-lines were based around the actions and reactions of people, where the scenery could be your back yard or just down the road.

They didn’t particularly take to E.T but loved The Goonies. Star Wars was lapped up, as was Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The Gremlins were a hit, Honey I Shrunk the Kids too, went down well. The Never Ending Story or the Labyrinth, not so much. So there is the subjectivity, there is no pleasing everybody and kids as an audience are possibly the most discerning, hard to please mob you are ever going to encounter in front of a screen. Their displeasure is immediately obvious and they will switch off almost instantly if a movie fails to grab them, not all that long after the opening credits have rolled.

The greatest movie ever made, in my most humble of opinions, is not something my wife has much appreciation for. I can understand why, not everything is for everyone, as we have established. The thing is, you only have to run through a few of the names in the cast and surely you are sold. Carrie Fisher, John Candy, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklyn.

Ok, from that line up you can assume it is a musical number and, more or less, it is. Let me assure you though, the movie is so much more. For a start it contains scenes which even to this day stand as the second highest amount of cars written off in the making of the one movie. Yes, a musical with car chases. Not just smoking tyres and screaming sirens. Oh no, so much more.

Think cheesy one liners to explosions and gun fights and characters such as jilted lovers and Nazis and nuns and tales of excess and ex-cons. People lie and cheat and scheme and rob and con and that is just the two main characters, so deftly played by a sadly gone to soon John Belushi and an in his prime Dan Akroyd.

Guessed it yet? Yes, that’s right. The Blues Brothers.

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Apart from the lineup of outstanding musicians, people like Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Steve Cropper and all the rest, the guest appearances from the legendary likes of John Lee Hooker and James Brown, providing class and divine intervention, there are smatterings of brilliance all through the movie. A movie that can make you laugh and make you boogie, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It will not move you, except for maybe out of your seat for a twist or a Watusi. Over the top silliness, Tom Foolery, Joliet Jake E. Blues and Elwood J Blues and the adventurous they are a part of whilst conducting their ‘mission from God’ is simply entertainment at it’s best and a movie which hasn’t yet, and may never, shown any signs of aging.

Yes, there is an expletive uttered here and there. Yes, there is the occasion reference to themes, perhaps more so in my younger days, youths might not as yet have been exposed to. Generally though, the Blues Brothers is a good, fun watch, packed full of lighthearted goodness. At the same time the movie delivers a killer soundtrack, perhaps the driving point behind the cult status it is revered in and all the while does not get bogged down in heavy moralistic tellings or swampy deep and meaningfuls. Accidentally a masterpiece of modern culture.

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Ward off the winter chill with a good watch. That is all. No pressure for kids to learn, to develop or to grow mentally or intellectual. Just throw a bit of culture their way and kids will do all of that on their own.

Helps if they can stamp their foot, click their fingers, sing along and have a laugh.

Don’t you think?