Big Bad Man

I’m not the man I like to think I am.

For a start I wake up and the first thing I do is check the weather. Fair enough you say, a lot of people do the same thing. Outdoor conditions can be particularly important to all sorts of people. Think gardeners and landscapers, greenkeepers, civil engineering crews, road marker, aborists, fitness buffs who like to jog, fishermen and all those who prefer to walk or ride to work. Even just making the call on what to wear or whether or not to swing an umbrella.

I open the curtains and look to the sky in order to gauge the suitability for putting on a load of washing or not. A family of six means pretty much a load a day. It sure piles up if you don’t get around to it or the weather holds you back. We don’t own a dryer, preferring to let nature do the job for us. Most of the time it works out fine, a lot of the time, it doesn’t. We live on the edge of a harbour and not far from the coast. Rain is an ever present threat. Worrying over a load of two of washing, however, is not how I picture myself, as a man, in this world. At least not how I used to. Reality came crashing home this week.

Our car has issues. Nothing major and certainly not anything I felt was beyond me to rectify. So, I dutifully dig out some tools, half of which I find have started to rust from lack of use. No drama, everything seemed to be working fine and I was sure I had everything I needed. Everything,  that is, apart from know how and skill.

I haven’t ever professed to being a mechanic. Not even a backyard one. You know, the guy who pulls everything apart, only to find he has no concept of how to put it all back together. I don’t want to be that guy. In the same breath I don’t want to be the guy who hands over the keys to another man, clad in overalls, grease and oil and other manly stains and all. My reticence has nothing to do with pride. I know my limitations and am big enough to admit them. The decision to have a go at the repairs myself was more one of budget.

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We ain’t broke. But we sure would be if we ran off to the mechanic every time there was an issue. Problem is, I haven’t had my hood under the bonnet of a car in many years and the problems we had with our car, didn’t even come from there. If you had asked me a few days ago what exactly was wrong, I would have fumbled my way through a garbled response designed to make you think I knew what I was on about but really, would be a series of terms vaguely related to cars, maybe even automotive engineering, just not necessarily anything to do with the problem at hand.

So before I delved into the world of nuts and bolts and circlips and calipers and hubs and stuff, I had to admit my failings. All I can say, is thank goodness for the modern internet age. YouTube was invaluable, a few geeky car forums and boom, at least was I soon able to sound like I knew what the hell was going on. But, as I quickly discovered, knowing and being able to do a thing about it, are two very different things.

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At least I was able to get a suitable amount of grime, dirt, oil and grease on my hands. And half way up my arms. I might have been clueless but with the car jacked up, the wheels off, bits and pieces I didn’t recognise and had no idea the purpose of strewn about, I certainly looked the part. I undid this, loosened that and in all honesty, made some progress. Somewhat surprisingly.

Problem was, I could get only get so far. Skills, ability, knowledge, put all of that aside. I didn’t have the right tools and even if I did, probably wouldn’t have known how to use them. Specialty equipment. The stuff of the trade, tools your average bloke doesn’t own and below average ones like me don’t even any use for. If I did, rush out and get this tool and that, I would be lucky to get one use of them, before I learnt them to a neighbour. You know the one, the guy who never returns it, then months later denies all knowledge, leaving you second guessing yourself that you didn’t just lose it in the first place.

What disappointed me as much as it elated me was the nature and scope of what I did achieve. Okay, whatever I did manage took much longer than it should have, without a result. I was able to do a couple of things I set out believing were well beyond me. Intricate, technical things the YouTube boffins told me anyone can do in their garage. Our car doesn’t even fit in the garage. Frustratingly it was some of the easier, simpler things which managed to foil me. This was the stuff any self respecting bloke should be able to do, and good keen man can turn his meaty hands to without a thought. Luckily I hadn’t gone so far as to not be able to put everything back where it belonged. Maybe time for a real man to sort it all out?

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In the end I threw my soft, delicate, dishpan hands up to the sky and admitted defeat. The skies above mocked me, letting me know it had been a good day to get the washing dry.

 

 

 

 

Greener on the Other Side?

What do you do when the differences are bigger than the little things?

We are all different right? We are all individuals, each and everyone one of us a sum of our environment and experiences and how we face it all.

Each of us have our thoughts and our secrets and our wants and desires and we all express ourselves our own way. We all wear our labels and fit inside our own individual pigeon holes, whether or not we have attached those labels to ourselves or have flapped our wings and landed in those pigeon holes by choice or chance.

And that is about as philosophical as I ever get. For all our individualism, we are all more or less the same at the end of the day. What set’s us apart from the person next to us are the decisions we make. The choices we mull over, routes we head down, both as individuals and as collectives. Groups like families.

I have a mate who, with his Mrs, bundled up two kids under the age of ten and headed off for a sojourn through South East Asia. A bold move many might think. A brilliant one I reckon. Still, the travails of travelling in a part of the world like that could do many in, let alone having two little ones to look out for. Apart from that, many might think two kids in tow could well prove an impediment to a good time. But hey, if you are travelling in your 40’s, you ain’t hopping the Contiki bus in a hurry or heading out clubbing.

But a bold move like that was obviously reached as a consensus. Same way as entering into a mortgage, buying a new car, choosing a mattress or deciding which Netflix series you want to feast on for the evening.

So when change is on the horizon, when options are made available and you are forced to look at where you are now, where you fit in that here and now, and where everyone slides in and around you, neatly or otherwise, the thinking cap goes on and one of those decisions, or a series of them, need to take place. I am not referring to the little things, the everyday things. Standing in a supermarket isle and choosing between toothpastes, making a call over one brand vs another, whether to mow the lawns or get the washing in, Chinese or Pizza.

Everyday we are faced with the minutiae, the bits and pieces. Most of those calls are made with little or no thought. Sometimes we get it wrong and often, in a family dynamic, even those seemingly inconsequential things can lead to more debate and argument than might at first seem necessary. I prefer clove honey. I am the only one in the family it seems. We don’t eat clove honey. I prefer Tasty cheese. We eat Mild. I like to walk under a bush canopy, we end up walking on the beach. Inconsequential stuff and easily enough worked through. There isn’t much course for things to go too far wrong.

But, what of the big calls? What, when things arise meaning big change, big differences, to the way you are living your life at present? Quite apart from needing to think things through rationally, especially before opening your mouth, you also need to be aware of all the nuances that can trip you up. It is impossible to tick every box, to have thought of every little thing. And, it is impossible to look at a major change completely impartially. I say, don’t try to.

Our time in the north is coming to an end. No secret, as far as the future of our kids go, this ain’t the place. Even if the next level of schooling was up to the task, what then? Where is the career pathway, where is the solidity and dependability needed to nurture youth into the bright young things of the future? Done that subject to death you are probably saying and you are probably right. So come the end of the year, we are moving on, like it or not.

I don’t like it. I mean to say I do like it. I like it here. I like the climate, I like the scenery, I like the harbour and the wildlife it attracts and I like the locals and I like the quiet and the night sky and the laid back lifestyle and the warm rain and the relative isolation without having to be far from anywhere.

So there we have it. Opportunity calls for the other half, the extras that can and will provide for our kids and here is me, stuck in the mud (literally at times in a good old Northland winter). The calls in life Wifey and have made to date have led us here. This place, this time, this space in our lives. We are happy enough, as settled as we ever get.

I am 45 this year. My wife is rapidly approaching forty, far quicker than she would like I think. Thing is, I can’t remember a place we have settled for than a year or so since we left my home town. My wife’s feet itch more than if she was standing atop an ant hill and the word settle, for her, is a foreign language. But this old boy needs to take root. I have not felt truly part of a community in years. I have no social standing, no grounding in the sanctity of mate-hood. No sense of belonging, no true knowledge of my surroundings. Life has been all about fleeting glimpses, snatched views and shuttered glances.

Not working, being the stay home parent is a part of it. At times it really does feel like my life is on hold and while there is no resentment, no regret, it would be good to get back on the horse or the bike or the wagon or whatever it is I am supposed to ride off into retirement. In a community like here, it is possible to survive on one income. Survival is all it is though, week to week, pay cheque to pay cheque. There is no getting ahead, no saving, no rainy day slush fund. No fancy extras like island holidays, just concern over how much of a stretch it will be to fill up the fuel tank. it is a lifestyle choice more than anything else and one which would most likely fail in a city like Auckland where the cost of housing alone would be too much of a burden to carry.

That is of course, if you like a modicum of that same said lifestyle. We eat quite well, can have a drink, always pay the bills and there are things like internet and phones and the kids have presents and are clothed and so on. We don’t dine out, we don’t go to the movies and we don’t do anything that could remotely be termed as extravagant. In this household there are sacrifices made around the bigger things, so that the little, everyday bits and pieces bring a level of comfort to our day to day.

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But, and for me it is a big but, is the grass any greener elsewhere? And how much sacrifice is too much? When does giving up a little of yourself for the greater good become an impediment to your own well-being? I guess I am not far off finding out. Time to weigh up the options, put them against opportunity cost. The good old pro’s and con’s list, personally and then as a family group. Identify the common ground and look for compromise.

I don’t want to go.

We’ll be on the Gold Coast by the new year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donations Gratefully Accepted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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