No Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

Teachers Strike Back

Twenty four years, sixteen percent.

Just two of the numbers bandied about in relation to New Zealand’s primary school teachers negotiations. Over two decades since they last took such action, and a pay rise request based over two years.

So far, the demand for pay has not been met and there is a large gap back to what has been offered by the ministry. There is certainly room for movement and that is what mediation and negotiation is all about, an attempt to find some middle ground both parties can commune on. It is clear teachers feel undervalued and I am not in a position to question that. Personally, I value the teachers of my children based on the development of my kids. A teachers value to me, to my family, to my kids, is based solely on how well our kids are learning, how they are growing educationally and how they are developing as young people in our community. From a parents perspective, value has nothing to do with how much a teacher is getting paid.

I understand a well paid employee, in any vocation, is a generally happier one, although cash is not a panacea. That said, I guess it is important to find out about the other complaints from teachers and their union. If you have bothered to follow the media releases, read through the stances of both sides, then maybe you have been able to form a semi educated take on the arguments and counter responses. Or not, particularly if you scroll down to comments sections, getting caught up in the vitriol and heated debate.

The voice of teachers and those who support them have been the louder, more vociferous one. There seems to be a desperate need for our teachers to dispel what they feel are a bunch of urban myths out there, based around the time and effort they apply in and around their working day. Holiday time is a big one and an apparent short working day. Perceptions which I know to be false, but I can also see as being easily validated.

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For a time I served on a school board. I felt it was important to have some investment in what is a major part of my kid’s lives, namely their schooling. After all, good or bad, vast tracks of your school years stay with you for life. During monthly board meetings I saw passion, I saw frustration, I saw desire and will and elation and disappointment and I saw people, everyday normal people, trying to do their best as part of a massive and at times seemingly unwieldy system. I was lucky, as were my two oldest girls, to be attending a great little school, in a rural environment richly supported and a vital part of a caring and involved community. The same probably can’t be said for every community and every school.

Anecdotal at best, but I observed teachers starting their day well before the first of the school buses pulled up or children started to disgorge from a series of SUV’s, people-movers and crowded hatchbacks. Board meetings aside, part timers aside, teacher aides aside, these staff members worked a full day.

The working day for a teacher is not 9-3, as some might like to think. They are there longer, a normal, full, working day and so they should. They are paid to be. Yes, staff were in the classroom over the holiday periods, term breaks there for the benefit of the children not teachers…ever seen a child at the end of a long hard term, dragging their feet to and from school, a look of thunder on their face you as a parent do your best to tip-toe around? The teachers I witnessed prepped for the coming term. No, not necessarily full days and not throughout the whole two week break. But it was rare to see any teacher show up to class empty handed or leave at the end of their day without an arm load of files and a head full of ideas and issues.

Nothing new there really, for any one person in any one job. We all put effort in, we all struggle to leave it behind us when we leave the door and we all face that in our own way. I do have some frustrations about a few demands which have arisen around teacher requests. Namely, more time away from face to face contact, the desired preparation and planning time.

My kids, as an example I can readily turn to, are home by 3pm. They walk home, having left the school gate at around 2:30pm. The school grounds might not be completely empty of kids at that point, but damn close to it. No face to face time required there. That leaves a couple of hours a day too get things done. Ten hours over the course of the week, not to mention the brief time available each and every morning.

Sure, teachers are parents too. They have lives outside of the school gate and demands on their time from their personal lives, just like everyone else. Those ten or so hours might not and will not be available all the time. Particularly if a teacher is involved in any extra-curricular stuff kids are into. Coaching, music lessons, tutoring. But, if the voluntary feel good stuff is getting in the way, then it needs to be put aside. If the extras are affecting your ability to do the core roles of your profession as a teacher, then leave it up to the parents and others who have made themselves available.

Time management. Obviously something which bugs me. Teachers asking for less contact time when all I can think, as a parent, is how to get more. Greater time and contact between my children and the people charged with educating them. To mind, that whole argument is arse-about-face. A teacher should want more and more quality time in the classroom, involved directly with the learning of the children in question. Shouldn’t they? Isn’t that what they signed up for?

Which means better resourcing. Which means a lower ratio of teachers to kids, smaller classroom sizes, greater support and backup for those at the chalkboard (yes, showing my age…I know chalk has given way to the digital age). Does it really mean Special Education coordinators (SENCO) in each and every school?

I have moaned before about a lack of solution based rhetoric in society. We blame, point fingers, highlight and show concern. We don’t offer fixes. I don’t claim to have them, but another bug is language.

Crisis? Great way to attract people to the teaching profession. And after all, wouldn’t more teachers in the classroom be the ultimate fix? I think both parties agree on that, but how to make it happen? Perhaps instead of terminology which sounds panicked, we can voice alternatives. What incentives are there to get people into teaching? And not just remuneration. Could fees be subsidised? Could there be greater cross-crediting of prior qualifications? Are we working at targeting the right members of society to look at teacher training as a viable option? Parents, returning to the workforce, older members of our workforce looking for a change, a new direction? Maybe if you are 45 you can still be eligible for assistance in the form of allowances and loans, fees subsidies, structure it how you like, if there is an agreement to train and commit as a teacher for a set period of time. Free fees if you teach for a minimum of five years?

Get places like Auckland better resourced, so teachers can manage to live and work there. Not just Auckland, but any center facing housing pressure and shortages. Our rural and country schools too. If that means pay more, then so be it. If that means chipping in to cover accommodation expenses, then cool. Incentives for qualified and experienced staff to move to the regions in the most dire need, good idea. But we need to be wary of looking into things like performance based pay scales. How a system like that would be measured I am not sure and I can’t help but feel the risk good teachers would migrate to more affluent, better placed parts of our country, is too high, leaving the areas which need those sorts of people the most, suffering more than they are already.

The above may or may not work, may not make any sense at all. Potential solutions like those, or any other, will chew into existing budgets and that means more pressure on pay scales. It means a ministry, which clearly struggles to cope at any given time already, what with all the myriad of changes in thinking around education and behaviour, cultural awareness and sensitivity and the ever changing diversity of our broader society and its future needs, is going to have a whole bunch of new hurdles thrown in front of it, all of which need to be cleared.

Our education system needs to constantly evolve and grow. From governing bodies to teachers and support staff. That growth needs to be handled in a careful and thoughtful manner and it needs to be done with sensitivity and with an eye on a mid to long term future. Too often, in all sectors of business and industry, we hear words like crisis, shortage, lack of skill or training and development. We don’t have enough truck drivers, years ago it was plumbers and try getting a builder in a hurry, finding specialists in one field or another.

If shortages in teacher numbers and those willing to enter into training has already occurred, what does that say of our future? The future for our kids, trundling off back to school tomorrow morning? The current issues will be fixed, at least patched, one way or another. But, there will be a gap and that will reflect down the track. How do we prevent it from happening again? I don’t know. Maybe, twenty four years from now and sixteen percent later, we’ll find out.

 

 

 

 

 

Appreciated?

At the start of the week my wife barely got settled in bed before she was up and out of the house. 

She didn’t return until virtually dawn. It was the same thing last night. Well not quite. It was just after midnight when the phone went and she disappeared out of the house in a fuzzy eyed blur. Once again, she didn’t grace us with her presence before any of us had risen, let alone the sun.

My wife is a Midwife. She does it because she is passionate about the welfare of the unborn child, the mother, healthy happy birth and care of newborns and their whanau.  She sure isn’t in it for the hours and she doesn’t do it for the money.

That isn’t to say my wife is not well paid. Hers is a decent salary, if not brilliant. She gets an okay recompense for what she does but sadly, however, it is far from a true reflection of her value. Even a glance at her role reveals just what sort of demand is placed on her and those who operate in a similar or same capacity. As a Case-loading Midwife, she will do ten days on, four off…hopefully. Many a time she has to cover for illness or staffing shortfalls or is needed to attend if there are multiple births taking place and it is a case of all hands on deck.

During those ten days, my wife is on call. 24/7. She must have her work phone on her at all times, needs to have reception at all times and cannot be more than twenty or so minutes from the hospital who employ her. This includes her living arrangements for those hours. In her day she can cover well above 100km in order to attend ante and post natal visits, all the while being available for a birth should one occur.

Every baby, every mother and every whanau she deals with is and are different as is every birth she attends. There are separate requirements and necessities and a multitude of this and that’s she has to deal with on a case by case basis. My wife does it all with a proficiency which is only matched by her smile and her purposeful stride. And as you can imagine, quite apart from the pressures and stresses of her role, she always has in the back of her mind the impact of what she does on her family.

So why do it you ask? If the money isn’t fantastic, the job seems to be overly demanding and the scope is often beyond the remit?

Because my wife loves what she does. Because she recognises the value of her efforts, her experience and her care. Because, as liberal wishy washy as it sounds, she can make a difference.

She does. My wife has been in her role long enough to bring a great deal of qualification and experience, particularly as a primary Midwife, in a region which badly needs the type of integrity, skill and ethic she is blessed with. But, I am not here to blow smoke up a part of her anatomy the sun is yet to see. Becasue as great as she is, and she is, there are many out there just like her. Not just Midwives. Nurses, so topical right now, Doctors and Radiologists and all the rest. Kind, caring, hard working, highly qualified and skilled, passionate people.

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We have all heard and read the stories of over worked junior Doctors. Now, after some thirty years of silence, we are having our eyes opened to what our nurses are up to, the stresses and pressures they face and the help they need. So much more than simply a question of money. Here it is a small though widespread catchment for the health services to attend to and here also, is a system which offers so much more than the average. Hokianga Health and the Rawene Hospital have something quite special going on and while, like any institute and system, there are faults, there is no doubting good things are being done. The community benefits from the steps taken and the systems put in place and, I can only assume, there are maybe not the same pressures for many of the staff as might be faced in denser population bases.

None of that really helps my wife or other Midwives around the country. Yes, a Midwife can make the choice to operate independently, pick and choose her clientele and weigh up her work/life balance as she sees fit. All well and good, if there is a population which will sustain such practice. In rural environments and small towns, that is not feasible. There are simply not the numbers, therefore the money to be able to stay in business. Which is where people like my wife come into the equation. Alternatively, a Midwife can be employed by a District Health Board and do her shifts, like a nurse, and go home when the day is done with work supposedly out of sight, out of mind.

Can that happen when you work in such a role? Can someone just switch off? To an extent, yes. Experience in any job anyone is passionate about will teach that. But there are elements which can never be walked away from, indelible moments that will stick forever. Shocking, sad moments. Beautiful, harmonious moments.

People like my wife make sacrifices. Many of them. She chooses too and the reward she gets from doing so might not be a financial one, but it carries a worth much greater. Her family must make sacrifices too. We do so because we appreciate what the woman in our lives is doing and why she does it.

Recognition needs to come from elsewhere though. It needs to come from the top. From DHB management and at governmental level. Many of the best and brightest of our nurses and Midwives stay and ply their trades here in NZ, because of circumstance, because the dollar does not rule everyone. But many choose to move on, to earn the bigger pay cheques. Because it gives them a much vaunted leg up. Because a pay cheque, to an extent, can reflect appreciation.

Our nurses and Midwives need our support. Because when we reach for support, it is them who offer it. Gladly, willingly, tirelessly and passionately, and I for one, appreciate it.

 

 

All in the Name

Are Labour, our governing party, considered a soft touch?

It seems to me, at the moment, every time you turn on a news bulletin, read an article, switch on the radio, you hear the same thing. One group, body or another, threatening industrial action due to the inability for negotiations to reach an outcome either side view as favourable.

I better state, here and now for the record, I firmly believe there are a number of our public services which are grossly underfunded, undermined and under appreciated. Think police, nurses, teachers and I have to say, for fear of a the cold shoulder given what my illustrious wife does for a living, midwives. And by that, I mean far more than just the wage they receive. Much of what these good people are trying to achieve is near impossible given the constrictions that seem to be inherent when you work for and in the public sector. But hey, who wants to pay more tax?

That is what it will take to get services like these better funded and as a part of that, those who work in these roles, better remunerated. A higher percentage of your hard earned dollar gone before you see it. And while I appreciate many enter such positions because of a passion for what they may be able to achieve, calling if you will, it doesn’t stand that such verve for what you occupy yourself with should be done for chips, simply because you care.

It wouldn’t be hard to wax lyrical about police being the thin blue line, nurses as angelic celestial bodies, teachers as molders of our youth and therefore our future. Therefore, it stands to reason, most people would approve of a union standing up for their members in the hunt for a fair deal for all. Justified, surely, the fight to have our very public servants, well paid so that they may be able to do their jobs comfortable in the knowledge they can feed and cloth and shelter their families, can pay their bills and maybe, just maybe, have a modicum of a life. Like in many jobs, I am sure there are perks and privileges which come with nursing, policing and teaching etc. Of course, these will sit alongside all the trials and difficulties that accompany such a role.

A couple of things leap out at me. Ignoring for now the debate around pay reflecting performance for our teachers, but focusing on them, due to their apparently imminent industrial action and the fact their approach will have a direct influence on this household. I want to ask, was their a collective dissatisfaction to the fore, long before our current government was elected? Was there a case, building, when National were at the helm? I think yes, certainly around funding and how it was applied to infrastructure and maintenance. Our schools are managed more or less independently with Board of Trustee system, but that does not mean central government can wash their bureaucratic hands of the day to day.

As for pay, sure, I am all for our teachers being remunerated to the extent their wage better reflects the current cost of living, as I am for every working man and women and youth. And if ‘sticking it to the man’ is the only approach left, then go for it. Please though, be aware of the effect, however minor, such action will have on the average family.

A couple of days ago the local school conducted a meeting among staff and I suppose, representatives of their union, presumably to discuss what lies ahead for them and their fight. As that stands, fine. I don’t know how every school operates in such a situation and I am sure coordination of such an undertaking is no mean feat. But, before any real and meaningful action has even taken place, there has been an immediate impact on the education of our kids.

Numbers One and Two attend the local primary. They came home the other afternoon with a far from usual response to the ‘What did you guys get up to today?’ question. Made popcorn and watched a couple of movies was not what I was expecting to hear. Movies! Not documentaries, not an art and craft afternoon, not some sport, not some time reading or perhaps taking part in some grounds and buildings maintenance, like weeding and window washing. Sat in front of movies! Under the watchful eye of untrained and unqualified parents and other ring ins….because that was who was in attendance.

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Yep, the logistics of roping in helping hands in a community like this is never going to be easy. At the local school, the final bell rings at 2:30pm. That leaves a lot of day, gainfully employed day, to sip coffee and feel collectively wronged about the situation education and educators find themselves in. So beforehand, our tamariki are getting a full days learning in, their futures are not being maligned because of the perceived injustices of the here and now.

Sure, industrial action is designed so that it has as much impact as possible. running the risk of alienating a wider public, I guess the idea is to put the plight at the forefront of the media and therefore the public. But I ask, how much do you feel it should cost you, your family and household, your kids, so that teachers are free to fight the good fight? Because, if time has been missed, valuable learning time, from the classroom before anything has actually taken place, what is it going to be like when the placards are waving and the chanting starts?

How much time can you take off work when your kids are forced to be at home? How many hours of valuable pay are you willing to forgo? We will cope, because I am at home anyway. If our situation was different it would be damn near impossible. My wife has a job which doesn’t just stop because the rest of the world does. She can as an expectant mother to cross her legs all she likes, a baby will come when it is damn good and ready and no amount of industrial action will put a stop to that! So where would that leave her? Where does that leave the ferry operator, who so many rely on just to get around? What of the hard working folk in any role and position? People will manage because they have in the past and will again. The real question is, how much disruption is too much for our children and their education.

It won’t be a lot. Let’s be real about that. It may not be a thing at all, if a resolution is found good and early. A day here, a half day there. So what you might think, if it achieves a greater good? True, kids catch up, the good ones anyway. Those who are struggling might always be destined to do so under an education system many might find fault in. I have no fear Numbers One and Two will be anything but fine and will most likely enjoy the interlude should it eventuate. If or when it does, I can only hope those already struggling on fixed or low incomes, are able to wear the shortfall which could well come about if the above comes to fruition.

So perhaps we, as parents and members of a concerned and caring public, should have our hands up now, our voices raised. If we are supportive of our teachers and education staff, and we should be, then let’s weigh in on the debate, stop our traditional Kiwi apathy and have our say.

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Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donations Gratefully Accepted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Long Time No See

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

The sun is still shining.

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

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

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

Apart from ten million dollar roundabouts.

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

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

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

No argument there, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La la la

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will.

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

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

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

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

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