Category Archives: Blogs

The Lockdown by Numbers

49 Number of days at/in Level 4 lockdown.

3 Number of times I commented about adding an extra day, just to crack the half century, before eye-rolls commenced.

1 Number of times I asked whether we are ‘at’ or ‘in’ Level 4 before my question appeared to cause physical pain.

7 Number of novels grabbed from the school library shelves the day before lockdown.

7 Number of novels returned unread 49 days later.

2 Number of novels read! Discrepancy attributable to the fine Murakami novel that’s been sitting on my shelf, unread, for 14 years (and 7 house shifts). And the library book, loaned by the wife.

6 Number of whacky family activities devised to pass the time.

0 Number of times we played charades in French or cards in Te Reo. Or, indeed, passed a fine evening reading Dickens aloud to one another.

0 Number of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals I had watched pre-lockdown.

6.001 Number watched during lockdown. Because they were streaming on YouTube, and it was a bit of a Sunday night treat with dinner on your lap. Don’t judge me!

0.001 Number of viewings of Lloyd Webber’s ‘By Jeeves’ required to prove it is absolutely unwatchable.

27 Number of times the wife or I shouted at the kids to stop blooding singing bloody ‘Phantom’ tunes while they did the dishes.

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2 Number of birthdays celebrated with a nice walk and homemade takeaways. The lack of consumerism produced two songs, and one dance, in celebration. And one spookily accurate portrait built in Lego.

3 Number of nights out toasting marshmallows under the stars, watching Elon Musk’s dumb satellites whizz overhead.

16 Number of sudden, inexplicable emotional outbursts or meltdowns. Because… yeah.

6 Number of family kick arounds at the park followed by lining the kids up against a wall and throwing a small ball at them.

9 Number of times we wondered what the hell we were doing, and swore to tell no one.

2 Number of times someone in our bubble had to get ‘the tickle’ because they may have the Rona, maybe.

12 Number of various types of rashes, aches, tingles and sudden lumps on the neck that manifested while waiting for the (negative) results.

1 Number of times I called my friends, just to ‘check-in’.

57 Number of times I felt fucking useless for not calling friends or family.

270kms Distance biked or run up and down the river, so I stopped feeling fucking useless, according to my exercise app.

38 Number of times I felt weirdly excited seeing unfamiliar faces when I exercised.

Withheld Number of chocolate bars I didn’t need to buy, or eat, but did. So there.

52 Number of feature stones transported from the river up to our garden, as a direct result of family walks down to the river.

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49 x 3 Number of vigorous tummy rubs demanded (and received) by Thomas the cat.

4 Number of times Thomas the cat bit me because I was ignoring his demands.

2 Number of unfinished novels I finally had a chance to work on with all this spare time.

2 Number of such novels totally untouched due to carrying rocks and worrying about strange tingles and odd lumps.

6 Number of new stories written and submitted to competitions here and abroad.

1400 Total number of words in those 6 ridiculously short stories.

Heaps Number of times I suddenly hugged a family member, just because.

Slightly less than heaps Number of times I got a ‘what are you doing?’ look in response.

1 Number of songs I wrote!

60 Number of times I practiced the song over 2 days, because I was so nervous. Singing and playing guitar at the same time? Gah!!!

321 Number of times I said ‘What are you doing?’ during home schooling when the child was ‘just checking’ something on the computer.

321 Number of times a child was ‘arsing about’ on the computer, with good reason.

321 Number of times I asked myself ‘What am I doing?’ by even attempting to keep them on task.

1 Number of times I wore a mask at the supermarket. Felt such a dick.

4 Number of times I held my breath, and awkwardly burst bubbles with a stranger, in the narrow underpass out of Kelson before deciding to use the scuzzy horse underpass instead (even though it seems like a great place to get knifed and lie unfound for days).

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36 Number of cut-price Easter eggs purchased and scoffed in the month after Easter.

25 Number of days I wrote in my daily lockdown diary over the 49 days.

0 Number of insightful observations about life under lockdown in said diary.

100% Percentage of days where I just list what I ate and what we watched.

18 Number of times I did an online BodyBalance class with the wife and felt 100% happier, healthier and infinitely more chill.

Withheld Number of times I reached out in the darkness of the night to my beautiful, kind and patient wife just to feel the reassurance of her warmth.

Also withheld Number of times I reached out in the darkness of the night for a slightly different reason.

45 Number of times I got up in the middle of the night to read countless in-depth articles about what was going on.

4 Number of times I shared my half-baked recollections of what I had read.

3 Number of times I watched the daily 1pm briefing from Cindy & Ashley. Daily numbers tell you little.

580 Number of screws and nails and gap-fillers of various sizes and types bought in the mad chaos of Mitre 10 the day before lockdown.

6 Number of long-term maintenance projects I could now complete with all the spare time and 580 screws and nails etc.

580 Number of screws and nails etc still unused 49 days later. But who’s counting?

37 Number of history podcasts about historical plagues/pandemics listened to that gave me a greater understanding about what’s happening (and what will follow).

23 Number of ‘More or Less’ podcasts on COVID statistics that underline the countless words wasted trying to describe the numbers.

2 Number of times I stayed in bed in the morning. It just felt too depressing and devoid of luxury.

99% Number of nights I stayed up way too late, avoiding the prospect of another day being positive and undaunted.

Zero Number I times I wanted be somewhere else.

Incalculable Number I’ve been thankful to face all this with the patient, kind, loving people I have.

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Coasting by Numbers

6 years since my last trip to the West Coast with the lads.

33 years since I first went to the bach.

0 amount of power or phone reception at the old fisherman’s bach.

4 expressions of interest in stopping at the notorious ‘F**k Off Café’ in Springfield in order to livestream it’s newsworthy rudeness.

0 visits to ‘F**k Off Café’ after reading that the infamous owners had gone into hiding.

5 Number of times we pulled over and raised the hood of the overheating Terrano.

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9 different parts of the engine we inexpertly poked looking for the cause of the gurgling.

11 bottles of water received from friendly Australian tourists at the top of a bitterly cold Otira Gorge in order to fill the radiator.

2 snowballs thrown by tourists in Porter’s Pass (probably not thirsty Australians).

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3 mutterings of discontent regarding the American Brownies purchased at Arthur’s Pass.

66% of mutterings due to lack of sharing of said brownies.

33% of mutterings directly attributable to the unexpected presence of walnuts.

6 pies eaten, at altitude, while resting at Arthur’s Pass.

99.9% ethnic homogeneity observed at the Greymouth New World supermarket (many shades of grey).

8 times we ‘feel the pain of everyone’, thanks to the Dinosaur Jr. (and a poorly performing shuffle algorithm).

7 times someone asks ‘who’s this?’ when a song by Deerhunter is playing.

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100% sunny days enjoyed while the rest of the country is pelted with grey winter rain.

100% of the time 3 middle-aged men drink like 20 year-olds while eating like middle-aged men.

2 Number of vegetarian sausages required to sate the hunger of a middle-aged man who’s been drinking in the sun. ‘I might save my other two for breakfast.’

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3 varieties of alcohol taken along to enjoy (red wine, vodka and craft beer).

3 guts suffering acid reflux after too much red wine, vodka and craft beer.

100% agreement that acid reflux due to the orange juice mixer rather than vodka etc.

50% of drunken toasts directed to the good ladies at home.

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900% Amount of unexpected gameplay found in the ‘alphabet game’ where you go through the alphabet by theme. Bands, girls, fake album titles, Australian(s). Novel names for parts of the anatomy. Marital acts.

Zero muscles pulled, knees scraped and bones fractured while scrabbling over wet boulders in the dark after consuming beer, wine and vodka drink.

1 sighting of another human on the massive West Coast beach over the three days.

100% disappointment due to lack of sightings of seals, whales and dolphins.

9 spectacular, and challenging, golf holes created on the deserted beach.

3 pars made.

2 birdies!

1 ricochet fired directly back at a cowering golfer from a treacherous rock.

1 golf ball lost due to the club finally connecting with full force.

66% of middle-aged men actually wore shorts in the middle of winter… because it was so darn sunny!

33% of middle-aged men tough enough to climb the rocks in bare feet.

33% of middle-aged men assured enough to wear their comfy slippers on the rocks.

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19 bright red sand-fly bites discovered on my left foot.

1 bright red sand-fly bite detected on my right foot.

7 theories developed to explain this asymmetry 1. I wash the left side of my body more thoroughly than the right 2. Marmite accumulates on the side of the body you prefer to sleep on 3. The insect-repelling nature of the Vitamin B in Marmite is a bit of a myth, but only half of the time 4. Marmite churned counter-clockwise takes a left-handed bias 5. I forgot to wash my left foot. 6. Sand-flies prefer to dine in well-frequented establishments. 7. I jiggle my right foot more than my left while listening to Deerhunter.

19+ rat droppings discovered in bed after sleeping in it for two nights.

4+ Number of days it takes me to recover from 3 nights in the South Island.

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Not About Sharks

I’m finding it hard to stop writing. I handed in my final folio for a 6 week summer fiction paper at Victoria University on Friday and the momentum and pressure has left me in daze.

It is Monday, and there are so many other things to do.

Fixing the broken doors, latches and handles in the new house the family moved into 4 weeks ago. Shifting boxes. Unpacking boxes. Sorting piles of things. Putting pictures on walls. Working out what each of the keys do around the place, and if they’re the only copy. Working out how to cook anew now that the wife has gone vegan. Finishing the painting (inside and out) at the old house, which needs to be on the market ASAP because we can barely afford one mortgage let alone two. Arranging tradesmen to do the things I can’t legally do. Exercising my old aching body, that needs large daily doses of anti-inflammatories and stretching until I get a big chop-chop operation on my Achilles. Cleaning this house for the first time since we shifted in. Two bathrooms. Two toilets. Six sinks. Two floors to vacuum. An overgrown garden to tame and explore.

I could go on.

But I need to write. It is a need. Not just the two new stories I wrote for the course. Both of which will not leave my mind alone. One, a story of writing and love. Sharp, clever and funny. The other a dark wee fantasy fable that has mushroomed into the biggest thing I have ever written, and clearly needs to get bigger again. Or the kids’ story I started bashing out in my journal on Saturday as I watched the kids at their gym class. It holds my mind the most, being at that hot and fertile point where you can just keep writing and writing until the tale is told. Which is what you must do because if you stop the momentum is lost and the ink has dried to a hardness that will not take another coat without becoming a different picture altogether. And there are the two novels that need revision so they can seek publication. Plus the letter I promised to forward back in December. A real letter, on paper, that needs to be reconsidered because it involves care and caution. And there is my diary; the beast I started with great hope having re-ignited the habit last year, managing to knock out 200-250 words each day. This year I have been doing 600-700, until the last few weeks when life’s demands left it sadly neglected.

So what do I do?

I write. A blog for 5-10 people to read. I used to get 25-60 readers with every new post but those numbers have passed. The world is awash with words seeking eyes. The ‘attention economy’ places great demands on our time.

So why write, fool? Because I must. Why write this? Because the words came out when I sat down. The muscle needs movement and cannot relax or stay still.

 

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Smiler

Smiling can be hard in the morning, especially in the face of the stress and the unexpected.
This morning I got to the airport just as the check-in went to shit. The computers had stopped talking and the baggage conveyer wouldn’t work. The queue at bag-drop snaked out of sight through the terminal. People were huffing and puffing and walking into me as they tried to deal with the stress.

No drama was required, the plane couldn’t leave without our bags. Still, people pushed and fussed and contrived ways to jump the queue. A young woman behind me tottered away out the terminal and blundered back into line at the front of the queue. Well, she was wearing a very short green skirt and ridiculous heels.
I struggled not to glare.
As I reached the conveyer belt it froze once again. When it restarted after 5 minutes the short man beside me had a fit when told his soft bag needed to be placed in a tray. ‘Why couldn’t you have told me that before? I’ve been bloody standing in front of you for 5 mins!’ I laughed a little too loud and shook my head at the poor woman from Air NZ.
‘We’re all stressed,’ she said. I smiled in agreement and went to stretch my legs.
While waiting to board I started to write. I had received several random smiles and it wasn’t yet 9am.
This has been happening a bit these last two weeks. Are people happier or is it me?
I suspect it’s got to do with the joke I played on myself.
When the heatwave hit a fortnight ago I shaved my big grey beard into a ridiculous moustache. Think the bastard love-child of Lemmy and Derek Smalls. A heavy metal scowl drooping under my chin like curly white tusks.
I have the air of a pompous little monkey blown up into a man. It’s in no way attractive but it attracts the female eye.
Of course, I may just be projecting on co-incidence and quirk. Just because a woman gives you a second look, smiles, and then appears right beside you means little more than middle-aged fancy.
Still. Woman are smiling at me like never before. It’s nice. I like it.
So when I saw the feedback machine as I went through security, I hit the smiley button.
Then I smiled at the woman gawping at me as I boarded the plane.
But when I saw that the young woman in the short green skirt was sitting right behind me on the plane I thought, fuck it. I am not going to smile.

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Screening Out

Our eyes are special. They reveal the soul, provide a window for our thoughts to climb out. Whether or not you actually believe in the soul, our eyes are definitely designed for social interaction. They let us see what’s going on in the minds of others.

It’s why we’re the only primates with whites in our eyes. By making the iris and pupil stand out, this unique adaptation lets us better see where someone is looking and we are able to make a good guess at their thoughts and feelings. Are they terrified, friendly or shady? Are they pleased to see me, or is there a bloody great bear galloping up behind me?

Why am I thinking about this? Because eyes are disappearing.

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When I work at the local stadium, the young folk on the tills spend the whole transaction staring intently at the screens on the cash registers, often failing to notice that I am holding out cash until the transaction icon doesn’t resolve in front of them.

It’s the same at my local café. The friendly smiles, eye contact and brief chats have been replaced by eyes darting around a screen while I repeat my order as the device has commanded all of their attention.

 

I sound like a fuddy-duddy. But I am not. I love the promise of technology. But customer service is not just about listening to words, clicking a mouse and tapping apps. It is about human contact with a stranger, and it appears that human interaction is being screened out of society.

This can only cause problems. Social isolation, anxiety and depression have all been directly linked to the allure of the glowing interface.

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The more you stare at a screen in preference to interacting with human faces, the worse you will feel. People in societies across the world increasingly prefer the safe, undemanding routines of swiping and clicking over trying to fathom the murky cues of human interaction.

It just seems so much easier to deal with a device than a person. Because with real people you don’t just have to interpret the mystery of eyes, you have to read body posture, vocal tone, subtext and gestures. Human interaction seems so demanding when compared to a click.

 

It’s why some people get addicted to Tinder but struggle going beyond a first or second date.

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People are tricky. But that preference for comfort and ease comes with a cost.

Our bodies are built for the stress of uncertainty.

An astronaut who spends too much time in space risks breaking bones when they return to Earth, as the ever-changing stress we feel fighting gravity is essential to maintaining growth and strength.

Likewise, our bodies and minds.

If we don’t use it, we lose it. The negotiation and interplay, with stressors and uncertainty, helps us grow and stay healthy.

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We don’t need to lose the devices, but we shouldn’t use them to screen out human interaction.

We are social creatures, made by our gift for social interaction.

We must keep that fact firmly in sight.

 

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Camping by Numbers: A Listicle of 48 Numbers. Derived in Caravan and Tent. At Beach, upon Mountain and by River

 

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47 Number of times I will hit my head on the caravan door frame before I punch the caravan (or devise a cunning way to stop doing it).

9 Number of $2 coins the wife will ask for to do one load of washing, as it’s still not dry.

36 Number of snarky/comic names bestowed on fellow campers to amuse the wife. Like Damon and Jemima, who parked their giant motor home in the middle of our sea view and proceeded to cook mussels and sear broccolini for young Tarquin and Sapphire.

99 Number of times the hunting enthusiasts next door shout ‘Logan! Mason!’ each morning as the toddlers shoot at us with their new toy guns.

Zero Total number of segments of Terry’s Chocolate Orange I can successfully sneak from each of our 3 kids.

360 Average number of minutes chocolate is safe in the fridge before it mysteriously disappears.

7 Maximum number of minutes I get to write before someone wants or needs something.

Like $2 for the machine, or to account for some missing chocolate.

4 Number of days before the kids stop wearing sandals, jandals, kicks or scuffs whenever they walk on any sand or grass, and are happy with bare feet.

3 Number of days I can go without a shower, by swimming in the sea instead.

2 Number of minutes I can handle the shower going cold before cracking open the door to press the button for more hot water.

4 Number of mothers and small children sitting outside, staring impatiently at the crack.

0.25 Number of places I can safely change into my togs without flashing someone, somewhere.

9 Number of bum cracks visible at any one time within a thirty metre radius as beach folk adjust and strut.

3 Number of tubby kids who can squish onto a tiny camp chair to stare at a phone while their mothers do the dishes.

∞ Amount of entertainment possible to derive watching other campers set up and pack down.

13 Number of times the wife tells me to shush! each day in case the neighbours hear me making up fake dialogue for them.

You can’t park that there.

That’s never level.

The awning’s fine, it’s my groundsheet that’s fucked.

I see you have the Classic. Mind if I have a look inside?

0.75 Maximum number of intimate acts achievable before the caravan starts to wobble (or a child appears).

58 Number of times I covet the food the Chinese campers are cooking by the ablution block with theatrical flair and giant flames.

3.5 Number of days in a row you can eat sausages before you reach peak sausage.

5 Number of books taken away to read.

0 Number of books read.

4² Number of books the kids have read (factor due to them rereading their books with glee).

9 Number of days unable to locate the can of CRC you are sure you packed in the fixit kit.

9 Number of minutes it takes to locate the old can of CRC after buying an overpriced new one.

19 Number of times I can smile at the same person on the way to the ablution block without saying a word.

17 Number of times I can mention the weather when forced to talk to a stranger before having to find a different topic.

6 Number of hours between the Christmas Eve ‘weather event’ and the Christmas day thunder storm.

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36 Number of minutes it takes for a web page to load on the camp site Wi-Fi when it’s raining.

5 Maximum number of hours I can hold off going to the toilet in my last set of dry clothes when the rain is still horizontal and my raincoat is still soaked.

4 Number of incredibly loud farts the smallest child can release in her sleep after being rescued from her tent during the Christmas Eve storm, and snuggled down into the caravan.

5-6 Number of days it takes to forget how many days you’ve been on holiday.

6-7 Number of days before you start counting how many days remain.

19 Number of different exercises the two blonde twins in front of us do in perfect unison each morning.

3 Number of minutes before the wife realizes what I’m counting.

364 Number of little coloured bits of rubber strewn across the campsite after sudden water bomb fights.

363 Number of bits of rubber that remain on the grass two hours later.

1 Number of people sitting on the ‘occupied’ chairs by the pool.

180 Number of seconds a mother sitting down with a good book by the pool will look at the book before picking up her phone to check something.

88 Percentage of particulates in the pool that are not water or chlorine. Or leaves. Or rubber.

1 Number of times I have banged my head on the door frame of the caravan since writing In and Out on the caravan step in order to aid traffic flow.

2 Number of people who suddenly appear out of the shadows after I fart loudly on the way to the ablution block at 5 am.

7 Number of times the wife and I suspect we’ve been approached with the secret campground swinger’s code.

She’s in good nick.

I see you’ve got the Classic.

Have you been to the end of the beach? There’s a lovely spot in the dunes.

I had the beef. The wife prefers the fish.

You’re very good with your morning stretches.

7 Number of invitations to socialize, or have a wee drink, the wife and I have non-committedly dodged in order to sit in the caravan and look at people.

Nice. Lovely. We’ll have to see. I’ll ask the wife.

1.5 Number of snoozes desired each day.

0 Number of snoozes achieved after 15 days of rest.

1 Number of days remaining before wondering if we can extend the holiday.

24 Number of seconds it takes to decide that we can do another day. Yay!

1 Number of nights left before we pack up and head home. Boo 🙂

 

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Fair Vanity

I’m obsessed with words. Big, small. Odd. Not.

How they look, how they sound. Music and meaning.

 

The other night, while waiting in A & E, I picked up a magazine. It was full of articles I found hard to read (they weren’t on a screen, they wouldn’t scroll), but there was a column that showed how the pronunciation of the same word can change if used as a noun or a verb. The same word. What’s more, the change is consistent. Noun, first syllable emphasized. Verb, the second.

 

The symmetry was bewitching, like maths or music. Diverting enough to stick long after I had turned the page.

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But the Words I cannot shake is a song. Sharon O’Neill in my head. The earworm has infected my consciousness. The video is a solid gold dose of 1979. Kiwi pub-rock nostalgia played out in a TV studio. Shaggy perm and shark tooth earing, tight white jeans. Youngies shuffling side-to-side with huge grins. Par-cans glowing overhead red, orange, blue. Moustachioed backing singers, layering their sweet topping over Shazza’s ballsy swagger.

Sharon O’Neill Words

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I know every word. Every line. Every melody. Every hook.

Let me out. Like the new blood at the slaughter.

Who starts a pop song like that? A brutal simile for the kids. Freedom splattered on the abattoir floor.

Words just a breath away from my hand. Breaking into tiny pieces.

When I sing along my voice drops an octave, settling into a country-Elvis croon no one needs to hear.

The day after my visit to A&E I flew to Nelson to work on a rugby game where the result was never in question. Only one team could win. The winningest team. Sport without competition.

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On the way I listened to Words three times in a row, and then tried to kill it with a podcast about a crisis in women’s sport. When does natural advantage make competition unfair? Unusually high levels of testosterone gives some female athletes the advantage usually reserved for males. Larger heart, lungs and muscles. Elite sport is all about a battle of the exceptional, but our society strives to be fair. We want things to be fair. Complain if they’re not. The sexes compete separately to prevent unfair competition.

But how to resolve this need for equity, when a woman with the strength of a man competes against women?

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Fairness is a word that can never be resolved. Is it fair to expect more of some, less of others? To be paid the same for doing less work? To be paid less for doing the same work? To claim success while competing at a lower level?

In Nelson, everyone knew the All Blacks would beat the Pumas. Where is the sport in such a pre-determined outcome?

 

As I flew back from Nelson, still wrapped in Words and fairness, a bigger discussion erupted in women’s sport. The most exceptional tennis player of our time publicly berated an official, claiming it wasn’t fair. She was being paid millions, he was getting $700. Vanity reigned from court and chair. Enough to write a novel.

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This morning, staring at my phone in the midst of insomnia, I saw a new word I had only just learned disappear. Mardy. I knew the Artic Monkeys song Mardy Bum, and thought it was a regional version of Marty. But someone used it on the telly two days ago and the wife told me it meant sulky or moody.

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The Guardian had headlined an interview with Graham Coxon from Blur with ‘I was a mardy brat in my 20s…I’m quite mellow now’. But two hours later it changed. On the front page he was now a ‘moody brat’, and a ‘mardy brat’ in the headline once you clicked on it. A sub-editor had changed the words in his mouth, but only in part, possibly afraid the unfamiliar word would stop people clicking.

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You’re argumentative, and you’ve got the face on

Words should have been a world-wide hit in 1979, but no one outside NZ knows it. Maybe the big record companies didn’t think Sharon O’Neill could compete with the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, that no one would understand her. Back then, New Zealand music wasn’t considered good enough to play on the world stage.

It’s a touch, it’s a touch of class. It might not even last.

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Today, anyone can sing a song and show it to the world. You can sell it to anyone. In this way, the music world is fairer than it ever was. But with something like 200,000 songs hitting the internet every day, the chances of your words being heard may be less than ever. It’s much the same with blogging.

When I sing this song, I feel inside of me.

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The thing is, while I remember every lyric of Words, I can’t seem to recall a single example of the pretty words I read in the magazine. I wish I had taken a photo on my phone. Shared them to the digital memory. They were common words. Like re-port and re-port. Noun, verb. Name, action. This is my report. I will report you.

I cannot express how frustrated I am with my memory, and that I can’t access the article online. My brain has been rewired. It’s not fair.

But I have found the chords to Words online, and I can play it. Badly.

And I can write this; a blog of too many words, sent out into the clutter.

Vanity: excessive pride in one’s character or ability e.g. the belief that one can find words to connect an old song, Serena Williams, something you saw on the internet, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sharon O’Neill, a game of rugby, The Arctic Monkeys, that guy from Blur with the glasses, and something you read at the doctor’s but can’t quite remember.

 

 

Pants-off Hot: 1 Day in Nelson

Nelson, Nelson, you blow my mind.
So much sun, so many smiles
So much to see, so much to eat.

The market, my God, the market…

Vegan sprouted gifts galore
Raw cocoa Snickers bars
Spicy wholemeal oliebollen
The Dutch Touch, Yeah yeah yeah
Argentinian alfajores, alpha-what?!
Sri Lankan vegi roti wrap
Too much, too much

All Blacks towering everywhere

Is that one? And him?
Don’t ask me.
I’m a vegan, I don’t know.

Just get a selfie just in case

Full to busting, hands aren’t full
Fermented black garlic spread

Got from Mot, loaded for home

Rugby stats as genius art
Mind blown!
Got to stop.

Want so bad, pretty as hell

Wait.

Vegetarian Butcher, holy shit

Nelson, Nelson I gotta say

You’re pretty-damn pretty

Pretty damn hot

Pants-off hot

Hotter than hot

The sexiest city in the whole wide world

Named after that dude

That famous dude

The ha-ha! guy

You go Nelson

You do you

I’m too hot

Pants-off hot

Time to lie down sleep it off.

A Voyage around My Mother: The Story of a Notebook II

Why do we need to write words? Is it to entertain ourselves or others? Is it to display or to conceal? Why spend so much time presenting an acceptable image, while hiding in plain sight? These are the questions I ask myself as an infrequent diarist living in a time of constant over-sharing.

The gap between our public and private thoughts is made clear when the top three words women use on Facebook to describe their husbands are compared to those used in Google searches (on FB my husband is “loyal” “amazing” “best-friend” vs. “annoying” “mean” “gay” on Google).

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I was thinking about this the other night while scribbling mundane descriptions in my diary. Why bother? Lists of routine events. Dinners made for the family, housework done, writing projects chipped away at. My words lacked insight or reflection. I would never want to read them. I sought distraction, remembering my mother’s travel journal, My Trip Book. My sister had been looking through it when she visited recently, discovering it held more than I had seen.

I glanced at it when Mum died several years ago, reading the first few pages of her boat trip out to Britain with Dad in 1957. But the death of a parent is a fraught time; deciding what to keep hold of, and what to let go. I was disappointed by all the blank pages. Why had she stopped after the first few days? Had she got seasick, lost the thrill of the journey?

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But my sister, Sonya, saw more. The journal takes an unusual format. You note departures at the front, the journey later on, places visited and people met at the back.

Mum’s beautiful, flowing script written in fountain pen by her 24 year-old hand, describes her journey with her husband of four years out from Christchurch to his English homeland, and to that of her Scottish parents.

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She visits places I have seen and those I have not. Pitcairn Island, Panama, Curacao. London, Edinburgh, the Isle of Wight. Enjoys Harry Secombe and Terry Thomas at the Palladium. Gets a job sewing electric-blankets. Suffers the disappointment of photos not coming out, and has such fun on the Underground.

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It is a treasure, but I want more. Descriptions, not lists. Reflections as opposed to generalities. What were the people like? What did she feel? But she was 24, and there are reasons most journals are like this.

I am a deliberately boring diarist. I have been burnt more than once. My ill-formed words snatched in secret and thrown against me. It’s a betrayal I struggle to forgive. Words written in private cannot match the expectations of the world.

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The other night, reading Mum’s words, I found the unsaid I craved. Amongst many blank pages, there was a random list written in red pen; cuts of meat and prices paid. More blank pages, then March 1964 Leaving for Sydney to-night at 7:30. I remember Mum telling me that she went with her younger sister, Lynette. There is a photo from the trip, somewhere in Mum’s box of old photos. But how long were they away? Days, weeks? Nothing is noted, even though she clearly took the journal with her. Maybe it was too much fun to find time to write. After many more blank pages there is a list of gifts to get. Cousin Lesley got a koala.

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Over the page is a more detailed list. Money spent: drinks on the plane 1s 9d, hotels in Sydney ₤3 2s 10d, Surfers’ Paradise ₤5 15 s, grapes 2s, drinks in Bondi 4s 6d, magazines 1s, drinks 6s, coat ₤ 12 12s, drinks & sandwich 2s 9d, excess baggage of ₤1. There is a note to keep ₤22 for hotels, leaving ₤104.

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But what of the ₤6 5s Val, ₤62 10s Joe. Val is my aunty. Was it a gift or to get something? And who was Joe? 62 quid? In 1964 the average wage for the job Mum was doing was ₤9 a week. ‘Joe’ had given her seven weeks’ wages. For what? I sat wishing Mum had written more detail. Searched every page, going through the contacts at the back of the journal, most of them crossed out as people shifted or moved on.

I found Val ₤6 5s fawn twinset, 34” size 14. If no fawn, then pale blue. NZ was a heavily controlled economy back then. Everything was cheaper overseas. And there was more choice.

And then, Joe ₤61 10s (₤61 with Traveller’s Cheques) 25yds Wenzell, Batty & McGrath, 865 York St, Sydney. Mum noted the exact cost and change, deducting the taxi fare. Twenty-five yards of cloth is a lot of fabric. That explains the ₤1 excess baggage.

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Because Mum left gaps, I can fit a story around the words. Maybe they were smuggling expensive fabrics into NZ’s controlled economy, drinking their way through the hotels of Bondi and Surfers’ as part of the plan. I can think this because she doesn’t say any different.

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For the first time in decades, I remember a possible Joe. A cutter who worked for her boss at Zenith tailoring. I recall her talking to a man called something like that. I was about four years old, playing hide and seek with my wee sisters amongst the endless rows of jackets and coats. He was friendly, funny, had a big black moustache and was leaving to join the police force. Mum didn’t work there anymore, but did out-work from home, sewing up menswear while looking after us. Mum told me that when Joe was at Police school he was instructed, along with all the new recruits, to tell everyone that Arthur Allan Thomas was guilty. Mum repeated this over the years as the fabrication, and Thomas’s innocence, was revealed.

Maybe that man was Joe. It doesn’t really matter. I have pictures in my head. Words that lead to more. I have searched out the photo of Mum and Aunty Lynette in Australia in 1964. Holding ice-creams, wearing jandals at night, they look tanned and happy. Mum said they took a train up to Queensland and that some locals refused to share a cabin with them, because they looked Italian.

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I have also found the passenger lists of the trip to England in 1957, a photo and a menu from the fancy dress ball on board. Mum and Dad dressed up in their finest on the deck. Like married women of the time, Mum is listed simply as Mrs. Taylor (no initial). All the men, mothers, unmarried women and children have initials.

 

That omission says something, does it not?

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What we say, and what we do not, matters. The unsaid can speak more clearly than any strongly voiced comment. This is why I write. To be read and to be ignored. It is a process of discovery; remarkable, mundane. It is an identity, cut from a pattern, worn to cover any naked shame.

 

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The Story of a Notebook

 

 

 

Absolutely Wedded

I got married in the weekend. It was quite a lot of fun. More than I expected. But now I’m buggered. Beyond buggered. Exhausted.

I still have the bounce of the thrill, the buoyancy of happiness, so many special moments fondly remembered. But my body feels wrecked, like I could sleep for a week or come down with a cold.

I guess that’s why people honeymoon straight after the wedding. It’s not just about rooting yourself silly on a tropical beach, doing your best to fill the proverbial jar with as many jellybeans as possible*. It’s also about letting go of the constant state of stress and anticipation, the endless need to organise and decide.

And the organising hasn’t finished. Wonderful photos are being shared to our save-the-date, and they’re lovely, but they need to be viewed, liked and loved.

There’s also thank you cards to be written, emails to be sent, feedback to be posted.

But, most of all, there’s a honeymoon to be planned in the not-too-distant.

It’s not a hardship. It’s a joy. The thought of heading off somewhere new with the wife. A road trip without the darling kids, free of the need to get on top of the washing pile or the endless renovations.

But, for now, I am tired. I need to close my eyes and rest.

Getting married takes it out of you.

I’m so glad you only have to do it once.

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*1 jellybean placed in the jar for every marital act during the first year. One out each time over the following years. Received wisdom claims it will never empty.

Standing Up

I was alone in the house, thinking about something I wanted to write, composing words of little consequence in my head, when something funny happened. I had just stepped outside to check on the washing, riffing away at gags and observations, when I heard a noise behind me that I didn’t recognise. A soft, woody, clicking.

It was the feathers of a fantail, flitting gently around the room. Long tail hanging down below.

Oh, I said. Oh, aloud, following its flight.

I have come to be nervous of birds in the house. They panic, throw themselves against the windows. Shit on the curtains. But the piwakawaka did exactly what fantails do. It calmly flew three circles of the space, aware that windows are not exits, and then it bobbled past me, out into the afternoon sun.

I quickly shut the door.

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It is 17 years since I last saw that. I was starting a writing course in Timaru. A fantail flew into the kitchen, circled the light three times, and headed straight out into the garden. My flatmate, another writer, was uncertain. She thought it meant death. Something to do with their role in the death of Maui when he sought immortality. I swiftly made the point, rightly or not, that such events are also seen as a portent of rebirth, the start of something new. We were to write. Add words to the world.

As I recalled that moment, our recently returned long-lost cat appeared at the door, shouting to get in. Too much. Meke tu meke.

 

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I had wanted to write about the poet I saw last night. The two poets I saw last night. How it was 2/3 performance, 1/3 poetry. How funny they were. John Cooper Clarke and Andrew Fagan. I liked it so much I even bought the Ramones-inspired tour t-shirt and started to write garbled poems in my head, humorous and wry. Words the world is not waiting for, does not need, but I have to express.

 

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I had recently been thinking about giving stand-up a crack. It’s something I haven’t done. Not bucket-list but a bit of a lacuna. I’ve written a set and am trying to pluck up the courage to give it a bash. The thought terrifies me. I’ve often had the urge, having worked on so many live stand-up shows, but felt I was too much of an actor and/or writer, needing control of words.

Last month, when I saw a wonderful young actor do a solo show that was as much stand-up as theatre, I resolved to try my hand. I am nearly 51, how bad can it be?

I have read my ropey poems live, shaking in my boots. It really does happen. The anxiety was worse than theatre or playing in a band. You are totally naked. A performer and writer with no loud music, drama or drums, make-up or guitars to hide behind. Just you and your words. And a mic.

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Maybe that is why both poets last night, 70s punk and 80s pop star, both employed costumes, patter and props, jokes and gags. It wasn’t stand-up, it was funnier than that. I smiled and laughed the whole time as they entertained the beautiful, packed historic church and offended the young.

I don’t know if I have the guts to act like a stand-up comedian. But I can be a funny poet. Maybe I could blend the parts into something new, born of me. A brash bird no longer bashing against windows it cannot see.

I want to flit about new spaces, unafraid of any threat, confident that the door remains exactly where it was when I came in.

 

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Beyond Doubt

It’s hard to accept absence as loss. There is no way to mark the grief of the inexplicable. You seek multiple explanations and none satisfies, or offers true relief.

You can bury a squashed cat or one that doesn’t come back from the vet. You can cry and move on.

But a cat that just disappears, leaving no hint or trace, stays curled up like a knot.

Thomas disappeared five and half weeks ago. The girls have wandered the neighbourhood and left notices in letter boxes. The have lit candles in the window each night to guide him home. We have all been a bit scratchy, unable to grieve.

At first, I told the girls that he may have found a nice old lady, who would give him too much food whenever he squawked. They liked that.

Once he was gone a month, the tears started. Hope was gone. We decided that we needed a wee ceremony, to bid him farewell. But when?

This weekend, we stayed with good friends out of town. They have dogs and a cat, pigs, sheep and chooks. I had intended to bring our huge bag of cat food that sat in the cupboard, waiting for Thomas to return.

I remembered it when Polly, their fluffy cat, rubbed against me. That led to talk of Thomas. Theories of what happened. Bad dogs. Bad kids. A fast car slept in to far-far away.

I repeated my theory that he hadn’t been well for weeks. The exceptionally hot summer had hit him hard, he constantly complained, unable to settle; had begun to look like a crooked old cat.

From the start, I believed that he had crawled under a bush and gone to sleep, searching for peace from whatever ailment was going on inside.

This morning, five and a half weeks after he vanished, the unimaginable happened. Thomas emerged from a bush, unable to shut-up, squawking and loud, ready to take command of the house once more. I filled his bowl with the biscuits I forgot to re-gift and he gobbled them between screaming meows.

It is unbelievable. I am so glad we didn’t say good-bye.

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Doubting Thomas

Last night I did something I never do. I posted a photo of our cat on social media. He was curled up in the way-too-small box he’s been trying to sit in all week. He has attempted resting his chin on the flimsy flaps but his head tips over when he falls asleep. He has twisted and folded trying to tuck in his head, but his tail or a shoulder always popped out.

It’s been very entertaining. What did cats do before boxes? Which came first, the cat or the box? The philosophical enquiry has been endless.

Thomas loves boxes. But each affair has only ever lasted a few days before the claws came out and rough-love was applied, shredding the cardboard; un-boxing the box.

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I’ve always loved cats. They seem to love me. Sometimes a bit too much. Cats want to chat with me, jump on my back, or sit on my lap. It’s been a point of repeated jealousy from friends and lovers. I always say it’s because I’m part cat. Or some sort of very cat-like dog. Maybe I was a can of sardines in a past life.

When I posted the picture of Thomas, stubbornly content in his box, my partner said, “You will get lots of likes for that”. I did. In bed I showed her the pictures two friends had posted of their cats who had recently moved on. They were great final portraits.

20180302_085132Cats are funny things. Two weeks ago, on the last full moon, the witchy-poos I live with put all their crystals outside on a bed of salt in order to soak up the moon’s energy. Thomas spent the whole day sleeping below them on a hard wooden bench he had never favoured.

 

Over the week me and my sisters sat with our dying father, we repeatedly tried to get the facility’s so-called ‘Death Cat’ to come into the room to help Dad find peace. After five nights it finally did; to sit on my lap.

This morning, after my fiancé left for work, she sent a text saying Thomas had not come in for his breakfast. That is unusual. He is always at our bedroom door by 5am, demanding a fussing, or in the kitchen screaming at her feet for food.

It made me worried. He has never wandered. He only went missing when he got hit by a car, using up eight lives. His head was so misshapen he couldn’t eat for a long time, and we thought his handsome good looks were gone and he would never be right.

But Thomas is Thomas, a cat like no other. After escaping, and losing, three ‘cones of shame’ he was once more boss of the house, seeing off every other wandering cat in the neighbourhood so that he could stalk birds, mice, lizards and rats in peace.

As soon as the girls got up this morning I asked Alice, Thomas’s proud ‘wife’, to press the button to open the garage door below us, not saying why. I knew that if he had been trapped downstairs we all would have heard about it but, nevertheless, I still hoped to hear him barrel through the cat-flap straight after the button was pressed.

I said nothing about his absence as the three girls ate their porridge. But as Alice was washing her bowl she said, “There’s Thomas!”

I looked out the window and said, “Where?” masking the panic and relief in my voice. I couldn’t see him. “Where, Alice?”

“The birds. What are they?” She pointed at a sudden cloud of sparrows. I had shown her how the cleverer birds warn the flock of his lurking presence. Sparrows flap up and cheep. Starlings swoop and squawk. Seagulls fuss.

“They’re sparrows, Al. Did you see him, did you actually see Thomas?”

“No. But the birds mean he’s there. In the bushes.”

I turned away and began to dry the dishes.

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After the girls headed off to school, happily unaware, I began to feel superstitious. His obsession with the box was a foreshadowing. I had empowered it by sharing a photo of him and his box, accompanying it with too-cute words in his voice. And by showing my fiancé the two final portraits I had seen. Two.

All writers are superstitious. Even atheists. Especially spiritual atheists.

Like my favourite author, John Irving, I often put my greatest fears on the page in order to rob them of actualization. Saying things out loud can defuse the trapped, amplified rattle of the head.

Before I sat to write, I replied to my fiancé’s worried text with a cheery ‘Will do!’ (Smiley face). She called back straight away, asking if it was time to call the vets. “Why, what can they do?” I asked.

“In case any cats have been brought in. He wasn’t on the road as I left…” That had been my worry. That the girls would find him as they walked down the hill.

“He’s only been missing for a few hours. That’s not enough even for a human.” She laughed, reassured.

I started to write.

 

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Into the Night

Last night I went to a pub to see a band. It’s something I haven’t done in a long time. I used to be a regular in my teens and twenties in Christchurch. Thursday, Friday or Saturday. There was always something to see. Local or out of town.

Last night in Wellington was like a Christchurch gig of old. A dancefloor packed with people standing, staring at music, shuffling their feet on the sticky floor. But with no cigarette smoke in the air and a crowd like me; grey, middle-aged. Relaxed. Drinking craft beer. No aggro or thought of conquest.

It was my first time at Meow. It’s a nice venue. Quirky.

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As I walked in John, the old friend I had come to see, shook my hand and apologised as he had to ready his cello to guest with The Bats. I had forgotten the nervousness of pre-gig organising. When I played music I used to leave the venue and march the streets until the last moment. Or share a spliff.

I went to the gig with my old school friend, Damian. We played in a noisy band called Swim Everything in the ‘90s. It was good to catch up. Talk about kids and getting old. His knees recently stopped working after a ski trip with his daughter. He reckons the change in the body from 50 to 60 is the same as from 10 to 20, but in reverse.

The Bats were the same as ever. But older. They’re the nicest people and were very supportive of my first school band, All Fall Down. Flying Nun folk are generally pretty amiable. It’s nearly 30 years since I saw them live (except on the telly at that gig after the first Earthquake).

It wasn’t too loud, either, but I still stuffed in ear plugs half way through the first song. I have such bad tinnitus that I constantly feel like the side of my head has just received an unexpected whack. Rock n roll.

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It finished dead on 11pm (no sirens or flashing lights to shoo us out like the old days) and I caught up with Ruth who managed the student radio station I DJ-ed at in the ‘80s. She was featured in an exhibition at Canterbury Museum last year celebrating 40 years of RDU. Literally a museum piece (I didn’t point that out). I asked Hayden, a muso acquaintance, if he still played music. He laughed and said he just watches TV. I also said gidday to another old muso (name withheld) who runs New Zealand’s spy agency. Funny the connections that weave through a life. Five Eyes everywhere. Watching, accumulating. Leaking. I resisted giving a secret handshake.

As I dropped Damian home he said he’d send me a link to the loops he’s put up on Soundcloud. He is very pleased with them. I said sure, and awkwardly mentioned that his mother had a good raunchy poem in a collection of erotic writing I had failed to get a piece into. He laughed and said she had a play produced last week. She was stunned by the effort, tears and despair required. Surprised how it nevertheless came together on the night. I said there’s nothing harder, and more intimidating, than putting on a play. That a script isn’t like a song or a recipe. The same script never bakes the same cake.

By Night

 

As I write this a script has turned up for a play I’m going to audition for. The thought fills me with excitement. And dread.

“The night is dark and full of terrors, old man, but the fire burns them away.”

A polar front, full of snow, is approaching New Zealand from the Antarctic. I need to get in the ceiling and sort out the insulation I shifted to fix a leak last spring.

Writing, music, theatre. I do not know what draws me to them, when a fire offers such comfort. Too old to be young and stupid I stumble onwards into the night.

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A Number of Things

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At work yesterday a colleague asked me what 47 and 5 was. I thought it was a trick question. Or, more likely, she was pointing out that I had incorrectly added those numbers. I may have; it was a hot day and I was tired. Hearing the exchange another colleague said to her, you should know that, you’re Chinese! She replied, that’s a stereotype, I can’t do maths!

 

Maths is a small but crucial part of my job. We’re always having to write down start times and add elapsed durations. It’s pretty easy, most of the time. The only bits that trip me up are when long durations have to be added to the 24 hour clock. Adding 113 minutes to something like 15:46 always causes me to stop and think it through (especially in the fuzz of the mid-afternoon). Some of my older colleagues use a calculator in such instances.

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I was asked to check some addition the other day. We then discussed how we did the addition. In that example I rounded up then back. My colleague just added up the bits.

It got us talking. She asked me what my favourite times table was. I looked blankly at the question. Favourite? Most people like something like 11, she said, but I love 9. She then ripped off a piece of paper and showed me a nifty trick that revealed a beautiful symmetry to the 9 x table, writing 1 to 9 down the page, then 8 to zero beside those numbers. Each pair added up to 9 and was an ascending total of the 9 x table. She couldn’t believe I had never seen it.

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I can’t wait to show my 9 year old this. She’ll love it. She loves maths and has just started learning algebra. When she told me last week I mentioned that algebra is named after the Arabic mathematician who invented it. Wow, she said, I’ll tell my teacher. Immediately I became unsure. Was it algebra or algorithms?  It’s one of them, I smiled uncertainly. Heard it in a podcast.

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After work yesterday I listened to a podcast about Maths in the Early Islamic World. It seemed a good dry subject to get me around the harbour and lagoon on a 30 minute run on a stinking hot day, rehabilitating my knee after a recent arthroscopy.

 

It was fascinating, full of the stuff I had been trying to tell my daughter. Babylonian and Greek maths were taken up by the House of Wisdom in Baghdad in the 800s where the great mathematician and astronomer, al-Khwarizmi (Latinized as Algoritmi i.e. algorithm) solved quadratic equations with something he called al-jabr (algebra) using Indian decimal numbers (which later made it to the West in translations of his work).

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Algebra was poetry in this world, and fabulously wealthy patrons paid for the House of Wisdom to explore its beauty.

It wasn’t till the 1600s that Descartes replaced the words with symbols giving us the algebra we know today.

And now algorithms rule our lives. Deciding what news we should see, what we should eat, who we should consider loving.

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My running app sent me an email this morning saying I ran my fastest 4-6 km run ever yesterday. It’s a handy thing to know.

But it’s the podcast about the House of Wisdom, and the infinite beauty of numbers, that have made me write these words.

 

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2 Days in Christchurch (part 4)

2 Men in a Shed

No one knows what men get up to in their sheds. Books have been written, TV series made, but the mystery remains.

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When I think of a shed I think of (Great) Uncle Willie on the way out to New Brighton. Uncle Willie and (Great) Aunty Lizzie had no children of their own (and ate pan-fried chips every night). When Mum took us out to Breeze’s Road to visit he would usher me and my sisters out to the shed to show off his meticulously tidy tools while Mum talked to Aunt Lizzie in the formal sitting room surrounded by elephants and other nick knacks from their African travels. I was fascinated by the little shadows of each tool painted on the shed wall (so you knew where each tool went). I would lift up each one to look at their shadow. Better still, Uncle Willie had a dart board on the shed door where he taught us to play ‘round the world’. We were under 5 (or thereabouts), very wary of the sharp darts, thrilled to be allowed to chuck them at the numbers on the board while Uncle Willie made a steady stream of funny whistles and duck noises to amuse us while the women talked about who knows what.

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I spent Saturday afternoon and evening in Blair’s shed in New Brighton. We weren’t making wooden toys for the grandkids, fixing a car or boat, inventing the internet or escaping her indoors. We were talking, listening to music, drinking snakebites and eating unsalted peanuts. I’ve known Blair since I was 12. We met on my first day at high school at the dawn of the ‘80s. We were both from the wrong side of town, so to speak, and had to bike across Christchurch to get to the manicured fields of Boys’ High in Fendalton. We started playing music in our first band in the 6th form, practicing several nights a week in Jason’s garage in Ashgrove Terrace, playing our first songs in front of people in Damian’s carport at the end of the year.

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I got my first bass guitar from Blair for $100. A maroon Diplomat copy of a Gibson. I had no idea how to play it. I just hit the stings and hoped no one glared at me. Thud thud thud. Thuddy thud thud.

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A few months after that first party All Fall Down (as we now called ourselves) played our first professional gig at the Star and Garter overlooking the Avon River on a hot summer’s night. I was 16. We were awful. How do I know? Because I recently listened to a tape if it.

We must have had some charm because people kept booking us to support every Flying Nun band that came through town as we relentlessly practiced, practiced, practiced morphing from the (somehow) endearingly-naïve yelled kiwipunk that I played with Jason, Blair and Brett into the crafted ‘60s melodies and harmonies (with a shifty dollop of country twang) that I played with Blair, Esther, Stephen and Bert in the final AFD gigs four years later.

 

Like all bands, there were a lot of drummers, but only Blair and me played all 77 gigs (and countless rehearsals).

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So it was great to sit and reflect. The tapes of the early stuff I had digitized from Damian were as awful as we remembered. Unlistenable. Our on-stage chat failed to charm the audience and the endless tuning killed any flow to the set.

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It’s quite something to peak back at your youth and cringe. Our voices sound the same. But what was encouraging is how good we got. I had no idea. There are many good songs and performances in those final recordings.

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After heading inside for a cracker lasagne with Amanda and their son, Nico, we returned to the shed to listen to some Swim Everything jams (the band I played with Blair and Damian (and Brett) in the early ‘90s). It was a lot more rock than AFD. And so much better with Brett’s drumming, as opposed to the more ubiquitous (and awful) drum machine.

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Blair still plays and records music in his shed, and makes a lot of art. I’m lucky enough to decorate my home (and blog) with several pieces made there over the years. He has recently released a solo record which is bloody good.

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Some local young musos/fans have tracked him down and they’re learning the songs to play live next month.

Late in the evening as we sat in the shed, Blair suggested something I had never considered. That we played some of the old AFD songs. Live. Inconceivable. The logistics and effort. The lack of interest. The death of Stephen 4 years ago. But one of the musos Blair is playing with goes out with Stephen’s niece. So maybe, maybe.

Sheds are like garages. A place to escape. And dream.

Second-hand copies of the AFD EP are selling for $239 online. Next year it will be 30 years since we recorded and released it.

There’s a target to aim at.

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Blair’s album ‘Cardigan Bay’

All Fall Down ‘Eastern’

 

2 Days in Christchurch (part 2)

Hanging in the Square

Working in theatre, television, sound and health I’ve travelled most of my life. Either up and down New Zealand or through bits of the world.

Even when I’m travelling just to see new places I rarely sleep well in hotels. I think it’s the fact I’m always aware of the unfamiliar, waking to check where I am, rather than due to any discomfort.

That said, I’ve slept in lot of noisy, hot or stuffy rooms. Last night was not like that.

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I’m in one of the new hotels that are slowly rising from the rubble of Christchurch. Breakfree on Cashel Street is the fifth different hotel I’ve stayed in post-quake and I think it’s my favourite.

It’s stylish, interesting – fun to be in. My room is a tiny studio but the design makes it seem huge thanks to clever mirrors and a chunky, industrial glass and steel en-suite in the corner of the room. I almost had to pry myself out of it last night to wander the CBD.

I had hoped to catch up with an old friend and drink beer in the air of a warm nor-wester but he had to work on Evita so I took the chance to be in this nice space and write without the pressures of home nagging at me (fix this, sort that, clean the blah blah blah).

That’s the thing about being alone in a town, you can do what you want. It’s one of the great pleasures of solo travel. The biggest drawback is eating. Eating alone can seem a bit empty. That’s why I sat in my room and wrote and wrote, and it wasn’t till 7:30pm that hunger drove me out on to the streets to see what the CBD had to offer.

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Over the past five years there hasn’t been a lot. The temporary food stalls that have popped up tend to close at night (except for the late-night pissed-folk ones that open late). After a stroll through road cones and re-build, and groups of tourists standing outside burger bars, I found a cool wee Japanese place called Hachi Hachi on Hereford Street. It was very appealing. I wanted a ramen but fell for the sushi burger with kumara chips and lychee Mogu Mogu… just because.

It was delicious. The tastes and mix of textures. I slowly savoured it watching a steady stream of locals bringing their kids in for a treat.

I wanted more. Writing and travel always increases my appetite.

But I had to find somewhere different. Resisting the lure of chips at Wendy’s or BurgerFuel next door I decided to head across the Square to New Regent Street where I’ve eaten many times.

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That’s when I discovered what I should have gone straight to. A night food market in the Square. It was wonderful. The food looked great. Exotic and interesting. The people were hanging and happy. I did three circuits of the stalls before I decided on a wrap with 12-hour slow-cooked pork and slaw (the beef cheek was sold out) from a stall run by friendly chaps who called themselves something Horse (sorry, too distracted by the deep-fried Oreos & ice-cream next door to get the name).

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I ate it sitting at the feet of the restored Godley statue (Christchurch’s founder) feeling like I had stepped into some comforting mix of the past and the future. The Square was alive. In use. Not some sad relic full of tourists standing around wondering what to do in a disaster zone. Maybe it was because it was so dark the crumbling carcass of the Cathedral was hidden. You weren’t constantly invited to mourn, unable to move on.

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I grew up hanging in the Square. Waiting for buses. Waiting for friends. Just waiting.

Last night I got to do it once again.

 

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3 Days in Auckland (part 4)

5 Hours in Paradise

When I booked my weekend in Auckland, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would make the trip. It was all a bit of a whim, anchored around a 50th. And since I was using Airpoints there was nothing to lose.

But once I got here on Friday, I was in love with my one-time home. It was as comfortable and stimulating as an old lover. The familiar was exciting, the changes intriguing. I didn’t quite know what would happen, and I loved it.

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I woke at 7:30 am on Saturday, a sleep-in for me. Before I pulled out the ear-plugs needed to dull the noise of the city and lodge I rushed to open the blinds. The Sky Tower stood amongst cloudless blue.

 

Okay. Okay. That was a surprise. Grey clouds had been forecast. A cool Easterly. That, plus reports of an awful outbreak of sea lice on the beaches of Waiheke, had made me think twice about zipping across the Gulf to my former island home. But clear skies were enough for me.

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The CBD was Saturday morning-quiet as I headed down the hill, making the trek I had done countless times after spending the night in a cheap hotel after a late finish at work (or a night in town).

Showered and packed for the day-trip (water, journal, camera, towel, tablet, portable power supplies) I found myself rushing, anticipating the phases of the lights, knowing which crossing I had to make to avoid being trapped at an intersection for several precious minutes. Although I was in no real rush (the ferries go every half hour in the weekend), the need to make a 12 minute walk in 8 minutes flat (to avoid being stranded) remained. The phases of the lights, and my memories of them, had not changed.

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The queue for the 9am ferry was Saturday-large. Day-trippers and wedding parties. I got my $36 ticket (not a bad price to visit paradise), and was on board with 10 mins to spare.

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While the day-trippers crowded the open upper deck I headed inside to grab a table out of the sun (and wind to come). With a coffee and a Gulf News (yay, the good old ‘70s-feel local rag is still going!), I pulled out the tablet and started tapping out my post about Friday night.

Maybe I should have been gazing out at the Hauraki Gulf and the islands whizzing past. Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe, Rakino, Bean Rock. The line of terns diving at bait balls of fish. The pods of dolphins or orcas that sometimes slow the commute. But I was back in the forever of the past, where the journey was precious time to read or write, have a beer with friends as the city disappears on the ride home.

I got on the Onetangi bus. I could have gone straight to Palm Beach on the Rocky Bay bus, but I fancied breakfast at the Ostend Market, a regular Saturday ritual when I lived on the Rock.

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The bus was packed. Locals and first-timers. I grinned like a loon as we wobbled and wound our way up the lumpy, bumpy road from Matiatia to Oneroa, ecstatic for no good reason. Behind me an elderly couple narrated every thought and sight. That’s a nice village. Lovely. Oh. A market. Look, a 4 Square. This is a lovely drive through the bush. Very nice. It’s a real holiday place, this. A real holiday place. Yes, I agree, they must have a hospital here. They must.

At first I took them for a rural couple up from the South Island. But when the woman stopped filling in her husband’s words I pegged the slow, slow, drawl of an Aussie bloke. I resisted the urge to turn and correct their assumptions. There is no hospital. You are either ferried or choppered off, depending on urgency.

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I wanted to take in the experience, not play tour guide. But I enjoyed their commentary. Noted it down in my journal. As we approached Ostend they wondered about the vineyards on the slopes of Te Whau. I turned. They’re grapes. It’s a vineyard. Waiheke is world-famous for wine. You should try some.

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The market was wonderful. Full of the familiar. Touches of the new. It was 10am. The sun was hot. I realised I didn’t have a hat.

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It’s very much a local market. Unlike others (in Auckland or Wellington), it’s uneconomic for outsiders to ferry over and set up. Which means you get old 2nd-hand books, bits and pieces, local produce and crafts. Kids sitting on blankets selling off old toys. I wandered it all before deciding what to eat. First up, pizza man. Still here after I first scoffed his crisp, thin bases 10 years ago.

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Then a new one. North African rolls and empanadas (apparently). I had lamb with the works. Wow.

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2nd-hand books were set up in banana boxes. I don’t need any more books. But always explore. I found a Horrible Histories Annual for $5. My daughter will love it. The man asked if it was for me. Called me a good dad.

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After buying a very large jar of Jenny’s Kitchen Tamarind Chutney (best in the world, a constant gift I always passed on to those who didn’t live on the Rock) I decided to look for a hat. The market hats were either too small, or too hippy/old man for me. I wandered along to the Surf shop and found a cap with a large brim. Very street.IMG_0582

After necking a macchiato from a funky van (skulls and antlers, worn out poster decoupage) I decided to head off to Palm Beach. It wasn’t a big walk. 25 minutes of up and down across the back of the island (that maybe looks like a long, thin dog lying west to east). But my bag was now heavy. Loaded with too much chutney, the book, sun screen, market snacks, Waihekean t-shirt bought with the cap. All the rest.

I needed to load up on fluids. Chose a smoothie from Revolution Juices by the war memorial.

 

You must be a visitor with that big bag, the woman making my ‘Pink Love’ berry smoothie said. Yip, just over for the afternoon. You should stay the night. There’s a great band playing. Radio Rebelde. Kind of Latin, ska. My friend is the DJ. She’s good.

I smiled. Wished I was staying.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 3)

Into the Night

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I’ve always felt comfortable in Auckland at night. I’m not sure why. Christchurch always seemed to have an ugly underbelly waiting to slip a knife. Wellington conceals a solid seam of nasty, ready to swing a punch from behind.

Such impressions, valid or not, are hard to shake.

I headed out at 9:30pm having spent more time than I had intended bashing out the last post. Uploading the photos was the worst bit as the Wi-Fi went to shit as the travellers hoovered up the bandwidth with Netflix, or whatever.

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As I walked along the neon darkness of K’ Rd I realised something that made me quite uncomfortable. I was wearing shorts. At night. In town. My bare legs exposed to the pre-loaded revellers piling out of taxis to line up for bars and clubs. It’s not something I had ever done except on random occasions going out for beers after a long day at work in the sun on a big job like golf or cricket or the Aussie V8s. But then I looked at all the women with their bare legs and short skirts and thought, if they can be comfortable being so exposed, why can’t I? Of course, that argument wouldn’t hold sway with any of the bouncers guarding the bars.

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I headed down Queen St looking for something to eat. A Korean place near the top called Nanas looked the best bet. It was the busiest and the menu looked great. But I would be the only person sitting alone. Not a problem. But I wanted to keep walking, consuming the sights and the night.

I wandered along Lorne St to Vulcan Lane, wondering if I would find somewhere funky and appealing. Half of it was roped-off with a long table of revellers listening to a New Orleans-style street brass band playing ‘Happy’.

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I half-considered a pub feed at my old stand-by, the Occidental. It’s a Belgian Bar with nice beer, pomme frittes and buckets of mussels. I would meet 1st dates there back when I was internet dating. It’s where I met the mother of my daughter on Waitangi Day 2007. That was the last time I spent our National Day in Auckland.

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But I didn’t want to sit in a pub of the past. I had a belly full of honey bourbon I needed to soak up/walk off. It’s too easy to drink more than you intend when writing and wrestling with Wi-Fi.

As I turned into Fort Street I was overtaken by the waft of weed. Four Canadians walking behind me copped it, too. That’s pot. No it’s not. Yes it is. Him, in that phone box. Go and ask him.

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Fort Street, like K’ Rd is one of the old sex districts. It has been made over, but the colour and sin remains. I love it. It was so good to see the White Lady parked up. Flipping burgers since 1943. But no, not for me. Not tonight.

Disappointed rugby fans were filling the downtown area, spilling off the trains from Eden Park. The Hurricanes had pipped the Blues in a thriller. I’m not a huge ruggers fan, but I’ve worked on the games for years. I was happy to be a Wellingtonian at that moment.

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By now it was 11pm. I couldn’t face the Viaduct in shorts (more on the Viaduct later). So I headed back up Queen Street past the gaggles of people swarming the gelato shops (they didn’t exist in my day), up to Aotea Square where I spotted a Carls’ Jr. They don’t have those in Welli. I went in, and had a Memphis burger.

It was perfectly fine.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 2)

K’ Road in a Daze. Laxing in Aotea Square

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The afternoon passed by in a pleasantly reassuring haze. I felt like a kid in a candy shop of the familiar and the new. A traveller to the past where everything is just where you left it, but the odd object has been twisted by 23 degrees, or been replaced by something shiny and new.

The most welcoming sight when I got off the plane was a man I had only seen on the telly, a celebrity of sorts, with a notoriety of the highest order.

Standing by himself in a blue suit was one of the most powerful politicians in New Zealand, Steven ‘Dildo’ Joyce, who had warranted the full singing-dancing John Oliver HBO treatment with his resigned ‘oh’ as a pink dildo bounced off his face on our national day. That such an important person could be so unattended by minders or minions surprised me. But this in NZ. We stand on few graces and airs. Maybe they now keep their distance to avoid catching a ricochet.

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Once on the SkyBus into town I logged onto the free Wi-Fi. Yay! Yes, I should have been taking in the sights but I have driven that road countless times, and I wanted to grab images from Google and post the first part of this blog.

The only time I looked up from the screen was on Dominion Road when I spotted this wonderful sculpture.

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Part 1 posted, I got off the bus half way down Queen Street, outside the Classic Comedy bar, and headed off to my lodge. It was humid and hot. Fat drops of rain big enough to hide a goldfish but far enough apart to park a tour bus, splatted around me on the pavement. Classic Auckland weather.

I walked past the Pop-Up Globe, avoiding all the emanating Shakespeare, past the flash hotel I once attended a lunch with Clinton and Putin (and all the rest), past a plethora of nooks and crannies where I had been dragged off by someone or other to do this, or that, or the other, up the wide, wide footpaths under the tunnelling canopy of cicada-filled trees to the City Lodge I had booked on Wotif.

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The City Lodge is an Eco-lodge. Parking is $15 (free if it’s a hybrid!). It’s cheap but nice. Full of foreign travellers and helpful tips. The potted history of NZ by the lift seems quite fair without gushing or glossing over. What sticks out to me is the total lack of any mention of sport, something that many NZers feel defines their national identity. I think that’s why so many want a sporting symbol on our national flag. We’re having a referendum on the flag at the moment. I cast my vote at the airport just after I saw Steven Joyce.

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After unpacking my wee bag into my Spartan room I headed out into Auckland, choosing to head uphill to Karangahape Road as opposed down into the CBD. It’s a walk I have made many times. It’s the way I walked to and from TVNZ when I lived on Symonds Street or in Eden Terrace.

Wow. Just wow. I was suddenly in a time machine. In my 20s and 30s once more. But the street art was better. I was more relaxed. But hungry. Very hungry. I decided to walk both sides of K’ Rd until some place dragged me in. Wow. Just wow. Should I go to Verona, that eternal haunt I so loved? Or St. Kevin’s Arcade, with a view of Myer’s Park? But wait, Flying In, the vinyl shop called with vinyl copies of obscure tapes I had bought in the ‘80s. And Vixen, a retro clothes shop. So much cool to desire. I checked out every menu, and shop, that caught my eye. But I could not stop. What would I miss out on if I sated my hunger too early?

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I was over-stimulated and spoilt for choice.

Outside the redoubtable Verona a TV presenter (and restaurateur) who once told me he had smoked pot every day since 1973 looked up in almost recognition but I kept walking, past the familiar Asian food hall and hipster cafes, past the intriguing new places that were calling me in, noted the pub lunch and a pint with the Jordan Luck Band, stared at the poster for James Reyne and Australian Crawl playing tomorrow night, walked across the overbridge where I was one pursued by a man in a wheelchair selling LSD, stuck my head in the pub where I went with my parents to see Uncle Robert host Karaoke during one of the America’s Cups, gazed down at the giant empty pink cycleway, so hungry, so wow…just wow. I wasn’t in Porirua any more.

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At 3pm, realising I simply couldn’t see it all, I halted my odyssey at Krung Thep for some Thai street food. Great music, cool design, with a glaring view across to Mt. Eden. Not having eaten since 8am I made a safe choice of Pad Thai, but as I sat down and looked up at the Wi-Fi password, I had immediate order-regret wishing I had chosen the featured ‘Choo-Choo Blast Fried Egg’. Great name. Never mind. The kai was great.IMG_0469

Next, coffee. I chose Revel, further back towards Queen Street. The entranceway was blocked by crustys and hipsters chatting in the sun at tables on the footpath. In the narrow dark insides I was the only person, apart from a lone waif plugged into her music, writing in a journal. With my macchiato and peanut butter slice came some middle-aged travellers and a pair of matched WASPish ‘trendies’. Short back and sides, him and her. ‘50s geek glasses. Mirrors of each other they pulled out their Macs and went online. Multiple programs flicked up but they both settled into the silence of Facebook.

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Ready for a lie-down, but not, I headed home via Aotea Square. On the way I watched a Shakespearean death through the open doors of the Globe. Romeo and Juliet, as it would have it. Turns out there’s an Arts’ Festival in Auckland. Who knew? I’ve been enjoying the one in Wellington but never imagined they would be on at the same time.

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Aotea Square is full of tents, bars, deck chairs and bean bags. I sat and looked at the programmes, drooling over shows like Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid (a burlesque retelling of Anderson), and the James Plays (3 x 15th century Scottish history plays in full armour). Or Don ‘Dominion Rd’ McGlashan & Shayne Carter in the Spiegeltent, and The Offensive Nipple Show at the Silo.

But going to theatre by yourself isn’t really a goer. Sad and weird as eating/drinking by yourself. I am here to write and think. Remember and observe.

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So I picked up a bottle of sweet honey bourbon, purchased some Wi-Fi at the desk, and headed to my room to write.

Now, time to post this and head out into the night.

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