Category Archives: storytelling

school sux, work sox

The flight home last night from the Auckland was awash with aging suits who’d been at the employment summit. I talked to one of the suits – one of the 200 grey knights invited in to come up with ideas that will rescue our nation from doom and gloom. I was gauche enough to ask if he’d been at the unemployment conference. ‘No, we prefer to concentrate on employment – it was the employment salad.’

Eh? My ears, still dealing with post-flight clickiness, heard ’employment salad’ and that got everything off to a terrific start. I’m just *naturally* impressive. I did my best to not engage as he launched into this amazing swirl of spin – if you’d believed this guy we’ll be at 110% employment by tomorrow. Or, somewhere over the rainbow. In the big rock candy mountain.

Which is kind of useful, because one of the big, big breakthroughs at the summit was a recycled idea about building a mountain bike trail from North Cape to Bluff. I think this is a great idea, it’ll make good use of the redundant rail tracks that currently infest the country. With much of our manufacturing industry now off shore the rail system is just a drain on the economy. We can sell the steel rails for scrap to the Chinese to convert into bicycles (yay the mighty wu tang) that they can sell back to us via the Warehouse and the profusion of $2 shops scattered across the country. The sleepers we can tear out and sell them to do landscaping in Remuera. And the carefully graded track lines will make mountain biking a really pleasant, but not too challenging, experience. An *added bonus* – minimal Resource Management Act requirements. Very good idea. And perhaps people will be able to make a pilgrimage by cycle, from the unemployment ghettos in the deep south up to Cape Reinga and cast themselves into the sea to launch their migration to Australia, our previously preferred (and time-honoured) method of solving unemployment.

I mentioned the migration method to my suit, and to my complete amazement, he thought I was younger than I am. He said, ‘When someone goes from here to there it doubles the average IQ on both sides the Tasman.’ I was stunned at the idea that he would voice that as being his own idea, and felt moved to mention that, ‘Yes, that’s what Muldoon said, and see where that got us.’

Apparently the suit (an ex-aussie himself) was of the opinion that in almost no time at all swarms ex-pats and their whanau will be back here to the land of the long flat white and honey. Mossies no more, we’ll be re-united, brothers in arms, red men … oh good grief, just no. I could see on the faces of the people around listening to the conversation that they were convinced they were in some sort of Tui ad, and that any minute now they were going the collectively shout, ‘YEAH, RIGHT!’

You know, thing I can never understand is how kids who are perfectly normal, fun, goofy, bumbling in a good way, vibrant and generally worthy people (i.e. real) at high school grow into conniving, word spinning, inhumane and at times, just downright stupid (i.e. unreal) in their adulthood. Does work – having a job do that to you?

I try to not buy into the illuminarti/new world order/masonic conspiracy but I cannot see what the payoff is. I’m unconvinced. Perhaps it’s greed. Perhaps it’s peer pressure. A desire for status. Craving credibility with the in-crowd. A media construct. Subliminal messages in the media. If enough people buy in to the Emperor’s new clothes group think takes over.

Pulling at an errant thread then, as much as I like the idea of being able to bike the length of the country – I am quite tempted by that idea I have to say – without the fear of being hammered by road traffic going through the bottleneck that is Auckland, and the other big cities – that I don’t really see New Zealand’s unemployment woes on the horizon being solved in this way. It’d be great, but let’s not pretend this’ll really do much provide widespread employment. Unlike if every Government business unit simply went to full staffing. Many business units are short staffed, and have been so for years. I don’t understand how a country can go from bleating about a shortage of skilled staff to increasingly strident bleats that companies are over-staffed in just a few months. I don’t understand why the Government doesn’t stop using foreign-owned banks instead of KiwiBank. Despite the seeming paucity of ideas (200 people, one day, 21 points – hey I wasn’t there perhaps it was fantastic and the points are incredible), the NZ Herald patriotically report: Mr Key said everybody who attended the summit had taken a risk, “but you put the interests of your country ahead of yourself or your organisation”.

Yeah, right.

what to tell your grandkids?

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what to tell your grandkids. I don’t have any grandkids, but I was thinking about all those ‘What did you do in the war, Dad?’ kinds of questions that I didn’t ask my Dad. Could’ve, perhaps should’ve, but didn’t. Wasn’t that interested, to tell you the truth. At least not about the war. Dad did tell me/us a little about his early life and I think my memories of his memories are more about a brutish life than anything resembling fun, or even funny. You get that when your childhood gets stolen by someone else’s alcohol, a depressing environment, and relentless hard work. Dad did survive and, by any account, thrive – perhaps not financially rich, but a king’s ransom worth of knowledge and the love that his childhood didn’t have.

So back to the things to tell your grandkids – if a picture tells a 1,000 words then a video of a 1,000 pictures must tell thousands of thousands more. Here’s a great video, quaintly shot in the style of the Victorian photographs, doing Victorian things. This is what your grandmother was like when she was a girl…

The deal

Tonight I cruised into the supermarket to grab some fixin’s for dinner. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. I noticed the trolley wrangler was wearing a green Santa’s helper hat. I remembered how my friend George had commented about the horrors of having to wear crap hats to hold down a job. Demeaning, he called it. I tried to drag myself nearer the festive part of the festive season. Three weeks to the day one of my colleagues announced today, in tones of joy that I didn’t know and chastisement that I didn’t know, blended with a subtle nuance of terror because she did know, and she knew what it meant. She also knew there was only one pay day between now and then. Almost like knowing there was only one more breath of air left in the car you drove off the wharf … sinking …

The supermarket. Instead of the usual blitz of frenzied looking faces grabbing calories to get through the night, no, tonight there was a bit of a crowd around the door, trays of slightly used looking snacks, and was that a barbecue? And someone in a penguin suit? No, not a tux; a suit what is a penguin. Handing out gee-gaws to sticky children prodded to the fore by grateful mothers. ‘Thank God that’s solved today’s demand.’ Is this how we want to live our lives? One of my other colleagues asked me today, ‘How do you approach xmas?’ Before I had a chance to answer he finished, ‘With trepidation?’

‘No’, I reassured him, ‘With fear and loathing.’ He laughed. We both laughed, in the way that those deep cellular memories laugh, the way our ancestral hunters laughed, around the camp fire, knowing full well that in the darkness just beyond the glow the sabre-toothed lion awaited. Patiently.

Xmas seems a bit like this for me this year. Been a long, long year – lots of laughs, but in the shadows, who knows. I grabbed me nuts (Brazils, keep it seemly) and me buttermilk, and headed for the checkout. Gotta get out of supermarket city … standing in queue. I turn, look at the next checkout queue. Checkout Chuck is wearing felt antlers. One proudly erect, one flaccid, spent, hanging over his be-pimpled face. And I think to myself, no, not what a beautiful world; rather, have I been somehow slurped into a Bosch painting?

Back, paying attention to my checkout. Wait, no, I’m distracted by a person (?) in a suit that looks a yellow coin with legs and arms. My mind evacuates itself. I am completely unable to … the switch goes to autopilot. I stare at the coin outfit. It makes no sense. I look for help to the checkout chick. She follows my glance and shrugs. At least I’m not hallucinating, she sees it too. ‘You must’ve been good’, I said. ‘Why?’ ‘You didn’t have to wear the yellow suit.’ ‘No’, she agreed.

We looked at the yellow suit, and back at each other. She seemed a trustworthy girl. ‘I want to make a deal with you, ‘ I said. ‘Sure, ok.’ ‘If I ever lose my job and become desperate for work, and I have to wear the yellow suit, I want you to kill me. Do NOT let me wear the yellow suit.’ ‘Sure, ok.’ ‘Deal?’ ‘Deal.’

I trust her.

I pay. I leave. I find out as I get closer (trying to be more invisible than my ancestral hunter confronting the sabre-tooth) it’s not a coin, it’s a crumpet. A crumpet. Someone came to work today and got paid to dress up as a starch-based food product. I walk back to the car. That was close. Too close. Oh, I know all about fear and loathing. I remember the year, that xmas, I came to work the crowds dressed up as Coogee Bear. You know, Rolf Harris. Coogee Bear. C’mon, you know you do.

Dressed up. For free. Where was that checkout chick when I needed her?

no writing. reading only.

One of the nervous moments people experience is the thought of their parents – you know – doing it. Not doing it, doing IT. Somehow the thought of our grandparents doing it isn’t so bad, and great grandparents – well, no one thinks about it. The ‘it’ I’m writing about is keeping a blog – a journal – a diary. What if we found our parents had kept a diary – oh horrors – what would it contain? And meanwhile we write like creatures possessed and think this online stuff is all new and exciting. We are the first generation to share our intimate (sometimes TOO intimate) thoughts with the rest of the globe. You know who you are.

My life, it seems, lately, has involved no writing here. I’ve been writing elsewhere, and now, slutty reader that I am, reading elsewhere too. Honestly, no shame, I’ll read anything. It’s not as though I’m addicted, I could give up at any time. I’ve found this new haibun/haiku writer – can you guess who is the author?

  Dense mist in evening.
Yellow moon.

Hey, good for you – I would never have guessed George Orwell. Yes, that George Orwell. George has started to publish his diaries online. And the haibun/haiku is from August 10, 1938. Makes me think George would’ve been a first class writer using Twitter.

There’s something addictive to reading George’s writing – he’s as attracted to (or at least documents) the banal and mundane as the rest of us – he would’ve been a blogger or tweeter or whatever as much as anyone else these days, except, of course, it’s 70 years ago. Startling. Addictive. And when he’s got his writing going on, baby, it’s going on.


When I was a kid we didn’t have tv. Yes, I did have a pet dinosaur. Somehow my parents discovered the local museum (and when I say ‘local’, I mean a 45 minute drive away, in part over unsealed roads) ran sessions comprised of 16mm movies – documentaries – in the museum basement. It was not unlike sitting in Tutankhamen’s private theatre, if King Tut had used those finger removing folding wooden chairs, later to be used by the Spanish Inquisition to such good effect.

I fell in love with the images (typically of New Zealand) from the National Film Unit, the national pride invoked by vivaciously positive sounding voice-overs, the haw-haw jokes, and the unique music – it was unlike anything heard or used in another context before of since. Add in the torture seats, the screechy-scratchy sounds of the chairs on the hard floor, the smells of mothballs and the flickering lights on the screen – plus, of course the thrill of being out with Mum and Dad past our bedtime – all set to be a thrilling experience. So, yeah, had the pet dinosaur, but also had an experience that probably couldn’t be re-created for our young’uns. They probably aren’t going to be uplifted by scenes of mountain buttercups fluttering in the breeze, blue skies in the Southern Alps, or majestic waterfalls. You can see how, when Peter Jackson bought out the National Film Unit, all that footage found its way into the Lord of the Rings, fantastic, even if they had to toss in a couple of hobbits and some other stuff. Gotta pay the bills I s’pose.

When I found the clip above I was reminded of the documentaries clattering away in the basement of the Wanganui Museum. It’s worth viewing just for the terrific production values alone, and of course, somehow the EU food hygiene requirements hadn’t been brought into play at that point. I imagine no-one died from eating lutfisk. I don’t imagine many of the people actually producing the lutfisk were later served such delicacies in the manner shown in the film… Culture. This is culture, that is culture, this is all culture.

joy to the world

For a number of reasons, the last few weeks have been chaotic. We’re busy and trying to get things done – and life sometimes attacks all at once. In the middle of all of this my Aunty Joy slipped away. She’d been unwell for a long time and I’m sure in the heart of the grief there was release for everyone as well. The last time I saw Aunty Joy she was as I have ever known her. She always wore her hair in a plait over the top of her head – a bit like a halo I guess. Loud, sharp, loving, believing, welcoming, laughing, fearless – look you straight in the eye stuff. Wonderful.

When we were kids we used to absolutely live for the family assaults on the drains on my Grandparent’s farm. The drains were home to the native freshwater lobster – koura – ‘crawlies’ we called them. Aunty Joy would be front and centre, in the drains and grabbing the crawlies with her bare hands, and flipping them into the kerosene tins we used as buckets. Bare hands. I still have a thing about dealing with crawlies with a net let alone my bare hands. I know, I know, harden up. We’d cook the crawlies, peel the now red shells off, and enjoy the succulent flesh with fresh brown bread and butter. I can remember the absolute pleasure Joy took in the simple (but fabulous) food.

Later in life there would’ve been a good chance engaging with the police if I’d had another of Joy’s measures of gin. Great gins and tonics, ice, fresh lemons. But heavens, the generous measures had to be carefully managed if you were planning to drive at some stage.

Aunty Joy was part of my learning to drive. She took on the responsibility of caring for my Bedstafar after Bedstamor died. We used to drive down to visit them and I did thousands of kilometers of highway driving before I got anywhere near a driving test. As a result, when I got to the test stage it was literally ‘drive around the block, hmmm, I can see you’ve done this before, here’s the licence’.

Aunty Joy worked a friesian cow farm, and as a kid I spent time with her and her family as they exhibited their prize winning cows. I found it all kind of strange as we had never exhibited/contested with our cows (I was a seriously city kid by then too). I can remember feeling that our cows were kind of like family, and you don’t go showing your family like that. Well, I know, some families do; but we didn’t. I learned some things about judging cows, however, I was to blow any credibility in this respect with Aunty Joy later when I dared enquire about getting the wonderful black and white hides for floor mats – a kind of kiwi zebra skin mat. Looking back I don’t know what I was thinking – perhaps it was the gin.

Last week there was a major power cut here in Wellington – even the Beehive had its electricity nipped. I thought at the time as I scampered down the endless flights of stairs to get out of my building, probably Joy getting a last statement. She’d have laughed loudly at the pricking of the balloons of stuck-up politicians and inflated bureaucrats. I can remember the intense arguments over politics at pretty much any family gathering. Oh boy. Head for the hills. Aunty Joy had an opinion and had absolutely no compunction in articulating it clearly and loudly. She was of the generation of Sonja Davies – Bread and Roses, and the Labour Party could not have lost a more staunch and consistent member. I believe Aunty Joy genuinely saw the Party as a champion for the rights of people – workers – the common kiwi. She certainly had the heart and strength for it and if every person was as staunch in these things we’d have a rather different distribution of resources in New Zealand.

Finally, for this commentary, mention of Aunty Joy cannot go by without her faith in action. I’ve mentioned her Labour Party affiliation, however Aunty Joy welcomed people, young people in particular, into her heart and home. I’m willing to bet that at her funeral there’d be more than a few people who’d been supported in their youth by words and deeds from Aunty Joy. Pivotal to Aunty Joy was her strong faith – her engagement with the Lutheran Church community in Palmerston North will be missed – truly the passing of a legend. I was unable to attend her funeral. I can imagine it though – in my mind I can hear (and she would’ve loved) the old Lutheran hymnsWhat a friend we have in Jesus and the like. Her passing has left a much bigger gap in my heart than I would ever have guessed, and yet I’m glad too. Last night when I was listening to a cd and heard a rendition of ‘What a Wonderful World‘ – it’s kind of our family’s theme at these times – I felt sure Aunty Joy was reunited with her Arthur, and all was as it should be.

celebrating the autumn equinox

This evening we decided to celebrate the autumn equinox (I know – a little late – was March 20) but better late than never. We took ourselves off to the stadium, and after a delicious supper of ham, salads, and bread rolls, washed down with a delicate lager and lime, we were entertained by a refreshing range of musical numbers performed by a Finnish chamber music quintet.

The Celts referred to the autumnal equinox as ‘Lughnasad’ – a time of harvest – and, rather than signaling a starting or stopping point, from their perspective, an equinox marked the mid point of a continuum – in our case, from midsummer through to midwinter. I’m interested in engaging with our (my) own seasonal markers – the northern hemisphere models just don’t work for me as well – there’s simply no point in looking at midsummer in June/July. And of course, we southerners can make a midwinter festival like (Matariki – 5 June in 2008) our very own.

Our autumnal equinox festival was very, very good. I loved Lordi, and was pretty much satisfied after their storytelling. Alice Cooper had lost none of his theatric charms either. Kiss – weirdly, felt a bit contrived, a bit jaded to me – I mean, they were hard out, albeit with Gene Simmons looking a bit on the corpulent side; but other than the extraordinarily bright lighting and pyrotechnics there wasn’t a lot going on in a story telling kind of way. That is, until the encore, when they unleashed ‘I was born for loving you baby…’ and then joy of joys, from where we were sitting we could see image from, monster of rock, getting down and getting funky. Yep, Dru is clearly an early KISS fan as you could see her ears shaking as her head moved from side to side. Perhaps it has her handler’s dancing, but I think not. Surely a creature able to breath smoke and have lasers beaming out from her eyes doesn’t need handlers to be a boogie thing.

Congratulations to Phil Sprey and the organising team – it takes real balls to put on a event on this scale, and while I suspect the event would’ve benefited from an extra 10,000 or so people on each night, it was a truly awe inspiring effort, and everyone can feel hammered, but proud of their efforts – and they’ll have great stories to tell friends and family forever.

texas textures

The images flickering past in the header as you reload the pages are extracts from some of the many images I grabbed on our recent visit to Austin, Texas. Sure, Austin is the capital of Texas, and Texas is big enough to be a country in its own right. Some might think it’s big enough to be a world in its own right, but I’m not so sure about that.

One evening Trevor took Marica and I down to the lake. It was one of those sultry evenings – you know the kind – when you want to just do stuff, but not so much as though you’ll waste any energy on doing it, because it’s too damn hot. I didn’t think it was too hot, however, I was keen to breathe some night air. It was about the right temperature to be laying back and taking another sip of your mint julep or margarita. Or an icy beer, with about three wedges of lime. We were have a great time fooling around on the wharf, taking photos, dreaming dreams, telling stories, laughing, and watching the sunset.

An elderly man approached me – he would’ve made a great stand-in for Colonel Sanders – although not as heavily set. His cheeks had the transparency of age – skin that’s known the touch of a razor for probably 50 or 60 or more years, and his eyes were blue and sharp. He reminded me of the old man in Whitman’s, I Sing the Body Electric, from Leaves of Grass.

He was a little shy, a little nervous, and then, “What part of Texas are you from?”

I was highly entertained, and I loved the approach. Apparently all the world was Texas, (or wants to be). I grinned. “We’re all from the south, in fact, the deep south.”

His eyebrows raised. I guess my accent was not immediately obvious as Texan, even from the deep south. “We’re from New Zealand, and Trevor – he’s originally from South Africa – but he lives here now.”

The old man smiled, happy to be dealing with fellow Texans, even those from the very deep south. He proceed to tell me stories about how this wharf was something he’d managed to get made through his negotiation skills in his younger days when he worked as an attorney. How his family had paddle wheel boats on the lake, how his mother had taught countless children how to swim in the lake during World War II, and how, as a young man, he used to swim across to a spot on the other side of the lake for a spot of lunch, and then swim back. I though his stories were wonderful – it’s so nice to meet someone who has spent their entire life in a place, and listen to them telling of the changes and how their lives have been shaped by their environment, and how they’ve responded.

It would’ve been nice if time had stretched longer – his phone rang – “This’ll be my spouse looking for me…but I like to come down here to see my wharf…” He spoke briefly and ended the call. We shook hands and he left. I would’ve liked to capture his story on tape – he was modest and yet clearly his accomplishments were many, and his pride and satisfaction with his achievements seemed well founded.

The sun had all but set – just a few faint pinkish clouds. We left the ducks and the other waterbirds to enjoy the night in peace.

drawing closer – the movie

Drawing Closer - How big do you think Heaven is?Late last year Marica and I were lucky enough to go to Austin, Texas to (amongst other things) help out with the filming of the movie Drawing Closer, with our good buddy, Trevor Romain. We got to hang out with the cast and crew – hey, we were part of the crew, and even got credits to prove it. Nice.

The premier screens tomorrow, February 8, 7:00pm, Highland Galaxy Theatre, Austin. Be there or wish you were there. Greetings to Carl, Trevor, and the cast and crew – congratulations on a job very well done.