It’s all good

IMG_3428Well this feels a vaguely odd; it’s a bit like getting a beloved but neglected toy down from a shelf when you are feeling nostalgic.

It’s only been 6 weeks since I put up ‘the Freedom Years’ but I didn’t write that, I don’t write anything much these days. I haven’t the need. That’s what I’m going to elaborate on here. I mentioned I was pretty much done with my blog now and what follows is why if you are interested of course. If you are not, then you’ve read as much of this particular post as you need to.

Blogs serve a lot of purposes. Many people use them as a platform to pour out the anguish they can’t articulate any other way. Some use them as a way of playing journalist because they wouldn’t get a paying job as one. Others are journalists but like the independence of being able to publish their well researched content without the need to worry about the limitations or constraints of the owners of their day job media outlets.

There are cooks, designers, photographers, travelers, so many travelers. I’m pretty sure the vast majority, if we were to sort blogs by genre, would be travel related. Blogs lend themselves very well to recording travel stories and images.

Others, like me, just have a lot to say and like the fact that you can rant, rave, express and regale with as many words and images as you like, out loud, in public, uncensored but by your own conscience and common sense.

When I started the blog, I was in a very different place to where I find myself now. Mentally, physically and geographically.

My father had recently died, I was unhappy in my environment for a number of reasons. I had a job I did because I was able rather than because I particularly wanted to. There were other issues I don’t wish to discuss but in brief, I was, unhappy, angry, depressed, disinterested, dispossessed, homesick, and I felt powerless to do anything about any of it. It’s not a good way to live. When dad died, I started the blog to write down my life as he’d told us nothing about his. I started from day one and let the words run their own course.

I discovered I enjoyed stringing a sentence together. I’d had the odd rant on Facebook and had a whole bunch of things I wanted to talk in more detail about than general conversation affords you the opportunity to. I started writing blog posts on just about anything that occurred to me. This blog contains about 150 individual posts and only a handful are on the same sort of topic.

The more I wrote, the more I felt empowered to have a valid point of view. The more I was able to articulate the things for other people that were constraining me. I simply wrote what was on my mind at the time that I felt compelled to share. People seemed to like it. I thrived on the feedback. I started to believe in myself, my confidence improved and my opinion of my self worth improved. I started to back myself. I also realised I was doing the wrong thing, living the wrong life in the wrong place. Being fundamentally unhappy. This is not unique to me sadly.

Then a few things happened quite quickly. I’m not going to go into the detail but I changed my whole life. I made one or two dramatic changes of circumstance. I’ve written about this before in broad terms and I’m not about to elaborate on the detail now, as that’s not the point. The point is…I know right? I always take ages to get to the point.

The point is that I took control of my own life and life is a million times better if you set your own agenda rather than living with the consequences of other peoples choices. If you control your destiny rather than being a slave to your circumstances.

I made the decision to move back home to NZ and start again, at the age of 48. I have no stuff and no money but it was my decision to be in this position. I changed what I do for a living to something I have great passion for rather than something I have extensive experience in. I was still writing when I got home. I still had stuff to say to document what was going on and the new things I was seeing and doing. I wanted to talk a bit about the new New Zealandness around me. However….

Now that I’m in a good place, albeit poor. I’m making my own life to my own terms, doing what I want to do and living how I want to live. I just don’t have any inclination or need to write things on the Internet any more. I’m too busy living the life I made rather than writing about all the things whizzing around in my head. To use a New Zealandism, it’s all good.

I spoke to a friend the other day who used to write pretty prolifically on her blog and she is also in a much better place through the decisions she made to take control of her own circumstances. No more ‘blogging’ required by her either. Not just me then.

The Internet in general and blogs in particular supply an awesome platform for you to inform, entertain, rant and rave, teach or learn. You can tell your story or make one up. You can write down all the things you think nobody will want to listen to you say out loud. I tell everyone who will listen that they should document the things that matter to them.

I just don’t need to do that myself anymore. I’m writing this on a quiet Sunday afternoon when I have a load of things I should be doing instead. I think it’s important to get it down though. I’m not stopping the blog because I can’t be bothered doing it. I’ve got a life to live instead. I have a house to make into a home and a cool day job. I don’t have any time I would rather spend on writing things down. I’m just getting on with life. My new life and it’s all good.

 Yeah, it’s all good.

As a footnote, I’m actually enjoying my photography more now that I’m getting better at it. I might start a photography blog instead. I’ll try and find the time. I’ve put together a free eBook of some of my New Zealand photography though if you want to download it. Like I said, it’s free, just click on the link here

New Zealand From The Side Of The Road

 

Categories: General views, Inspiration | 14 Comments

Freedom Years

Dad, Clark and Toni

Dad, Clark and Toni

I’m kind of at the end of my blog now. I can think of maybe one or two more things I will write about and then I’ll be done. I’ve figured out that if you are happy in yourself, where and who you are, you don’t need to write things down so much. I’ll talk about that in my next post when I get around to writing it.

That said, this is important. I put a guest post up by my late father a year or so ago. He was a natural story teller but not given to telling stories unfortunately. His brother was though. My Uncle Clark. He died over 14 years ago and this was something he had put together for his children, my cousins.

They were just some memories he typed out on a few pages. I treasure my copy of it and I’m very proud to be able to share it with you. This is a fantastic snapshot of a simple life not so long ago in the far North of New Zealand. The life of my family.

Please enjoy my Uncle Clark’s ‘Freedom Years’.

                    __________________________________

Introduction

It was that noisy dog of Paul’s that woke me up and I lay there listening to the barking fade away, as the truck sped to the back of the farm and turned over to the warmth of Kathleen’s back and hopefully to sleep before the dawn.

No reason for Raina Puriri to be there in that half sleep but she was and Mrs Kaire and this one and that one, and soon I was back with the people of Pipiwai and Kaikou. They were all our friends and it was a pleasure to dream my way back down the Pipiwai Road again. Anyway as I drifted back down that slow dusty road, back among the old familiar homes and faces, sure enough a little niggley thing about our kids, started to get in the way. Why hadn’t I shared those freedom years of ours with them ? Dad certainly had with us. Russell and Tracy especially reckoned they didn’t know much about my childhood.

Alright then (easy to make decisions half asleep), flushed with nostalgia, I’ll do it. I’ll write it down. I’ll start after breakfast.                So here goes…….

Raina

Strange that Raina should come back to me first. I doubt that I ever spoke to her, I’m sure I was in awe of her. I know she fascinated me.

Why? Because she was so bright and lively and strong, when I was shy, and I envied her that. She was the only school child on the bus who could match wits with Dad and that took some doing.

I knew there was something special about Raina. It wasn’t because Mum and Dad said she was going to go the Queen Victoria School then on to University, and end up being a leader of her people, I just knew.

I never saw Raina again after I started as a boarder at Whangarei Boys’ High School, but 40 years later Kathleen and I walked the Ngararatunua circuit after trudging up the steep Church Road hill, we rested for a while in the lovely stone-walled churchyard, and there she was, surrounded by the graves of her ancestors. Her tombstone told us she had married, had a family and died at a comparatively early age

 

Go North Young Man

Sometime in the early 40’s Mum and Dad made a decision to leave the Bay of Plenty and look for a job in the north. It must have been our first trip in a train and it was marvellous, especially the overnight stop at Frankton Junction. I remember that so clearly as the hotel must have been alongside the station and I think I spent a lot of that night at the window, revelling in the sights and sounds of a bustling railway junction. Lights everywhere, the smell of cinders and steam, trains shunting and carriages crashing together and murmuring backwards and forwards along the platform. The sounds of American voices. Exciting, I’d seen Americans in the flicks at Opotiki but never any live ones and here were hundreds of them, American soldiers wandering past all night.

We stayed with Aunt Una and Uncle Ned on their little farm at Kamo Springs for quite a while and then Dad got a job driving a bus and we were told we were going to live at a place called Pipiwai.

So began our next great adventure – what would Pipiwai be like and how long would we stay there?   Anyway, it wasn’t Pipiwai. We were to live at a little place called Kaikou five miles further on. That’s where the bus left from and that’s where our little corrugated iron house was.

 

Home Sweet Home      

Just a tiny little corrugated iron house and an even tinier corrugated

Iron lav out the back. Probably not more then 10-15 yards away, but on a dark winter’s night, and especially later on when our new Maori friends told us all about the “kehau” and their Maori spirits who inhabited the night, it seemed a 100 yards.

I haven’t forgotten those desperate dashes out there, hoping the candle wouldn’t blow out with the speed of the gallop, slam the door shut and sit there in the flickering light trying to get on with it and at the same time keeping an eye on the dozens of enormous spiders glaring red-eyed from their webs.

Anyway, we were pretty bright Ross and I, at five and seven years of age. It didn’t take us long to work out there is courage in numbers, and it was worth doing the dash together and putting up with the other’s lavatory habits and odours. Of course, if one wanted to go and the other didn’t, there’s a lot a heavy bargaining, deals and swaps, promises of anything, rather than take that solitary trip.

Poor Toni, I don’t know how she got on. I’m sure we never volunteered our company!

There was no power out there and no phone. Mum cooked on a wood stove and primuses and we used lamps and candles for lighting. Our one luxury was a large Zenith cabinet wireless operated by a 12 volt battery.

There was no wash house for a few years until the house was enlarged. Mum washed our clothes down at the river.

The house was very cold at night thanks to the corrugated iron and as Dad only had Sundays off he asked the local Maoris if we could get some firewood from behind the hall. They weren’t happy about him working on the Sabbath so we had to stay fireless until Mum thought of borrowing a horse and sledge from Billy Paraha. As Ross wasn’t yet at school, he had his first horse ride, and somehow they managed to coax the old thing up to the hall and back, returning with a load of whatever wood they could pick up.

The house was set right on the road in a large treeless paddock of almost 30 acres, but rough with clumps of fern and blackberries.

According to Mum, all she could see of us kids the day we moved in, was three blonde heads bobbing and weaving our way through this enormous paddock. She was scared that there may have been old bulls out there. It was a wild area but we loved it. Especially after Opotiki.

There were some fearsome looking horned cattle, but we never worried about them so they ignored us too.

The horses amazed Dad. He said he’d never seen so many white horses, and they were all over the place as the fences out there weren’t too good.

Hardly anyone owned a car then but everyone had a horse, and how the passengers enjoyed it when the bus was escorted the last quarter mile to home, or the depot as they called it, by the local lads at full gallop on their horses, all done up like Tom Mix or Gene Autry in their Stetsons and chaps and spurs. After a tiring day in town, the passengers all enjoyed the spectacle of the horses racing the bus, but Dad wasn’t too happy as he was concerned they might kick up a stone and break the windscreen.

 

The Pipiwai Bus

I remember Dad and his bus run, but it was our bus run too, and we kids had to keep it clean. As long as it was dry enough on Sundays, Dad could drive it down through the paddocks to a stoney shallow spot where he could back right into the river and we’d all grab mops and buckets and rags and clean it inside and out.

That bus was the lifeline of the district. It wasn’t just the only way most locals could get into town, it was their only way of getting their food, supplies and mail out too. So every afternoon Dad would be very busy loading the bus in the right order for all the stops along the road.

The mail had to be sorted at the Post Office, rolled into individual bundles, tied with string and threaded onto a long piece of twine in the mail bag so that the mail for the first stop on the return trip was at the top of the bag. I used to enjoy helping with that when I was old enough, especially being his offsider in the school holidays.

That meant sitting up the front with him and tearing out at the busier

stops and popping the right articles in the right boxes, so as to save him getting out of the seat. Dad was very expert at the single boxes at the right hand side of the road. He’d slow up, lean out the window and have the mail in the box and the lid shut without even stopping. And he’d grin his way up through the gears again if someone shouted out….

“By corry Abbot, pretty good eh!”.

There was always plenty of repartee on our bus. Plenty of laughter, especially when certain passengers got on. There’d be lots of cheek given and lots returned and everyone else would chuckle and smile.

It always seemed to me a happy bus with Dad’s personality. He enjoyed

welcoming people aboard and they enjoyed travelling with him.

Mrs Kaire was one of his favourites. She lived at Ngararatunua, and when ever she went to town, Dad always made sure to save a front seat for her

School

Toni and I went to the Te Horo Native School at Pipiwai for the first year, but from the next year on we all went to Purua. Dad would drop us off on the way to town and pick us up on the way back. Purua was a predominantly Pakeha school serving that farming community and I always wished I was back at Pipiwai. I think by the time I went to Purua, I was more Maori than Pakeha and my friends at Purua were mainly the few Maoris who went there: Wati Hauraki, Mathew Niha and the Kepa boys. Looking back, I think I related better to the Maoris because the Purua kids seemed so rich compared with our Maori friends and ourselves. They seemed to live in another world. Perhaps it was the first stirrings of a socialistic streak that ran in Mum’s family. (Uncle Lin was famous as Opotiki’s one and only Communist) but I didn’t think it was fair that they had so much and we had so little, So there was a fair sized chip on my shoulder that took a while to come to terms with, and I longed for the weekends and holidays when I could run wild at Kaikou.

But there were a lot of good things at Purua. Mr and Mrs Buckland were marvellous teachers and they encouraged us to play all sports, even to the extent of walking the whole school about a mile across country to Don Finlayson’s creek for swimming lessons in the summer. By the time we arrived back at school, our legs would be carrying a sticky harvest of paspalum seeds.

We each had a tiny vegetable garden to look after but my favourite lessons were the bushwalks where Mr Buckland made sure we all had an appreciation and knowledge of native trees.

The practise they didn’t have at Purua, that we’d got used to at Te Horo, was the morning inspection for neatness and tidiness. Fingernails would be checked and then a small amount of salt would be put on our forefinger to clean our teeth with.

Purua also didn’t have the beautiful Moetu Leonard. Moetu had been adopted by Mr and Mrs Cumpsty, the teachers at Te Horo, and she was a lot older than me – one of the big girls, but I thought she was lovely.

I met her again a few years ago, and she is still a very handsome woman.

 

From Purua School to Pipiwai Freedom

Dad’s stories of his footballing days in the Bay of Plenty and his enthusiasm for the game, rubbed off onto Ross and I, and we were always kicking a ball around whenever we had the chance, and if Harris and Pai Shortland or the Peihopa boys were around, we could have a game. It was nearly always Maori V Pakeha and the side that won was generally the one with the toughest feet ! There were large areas of short blackberry on our field and if you were brave enough to run through them, a try was generally the reward. Only the foolhardy would attempt a tackle in a patch of blackberry. Another natural obstacle our field had was horse manure. If ever legs tired or tempers frayed, the rugby deteriorated into a horse manure throwing contest,

Especially if we managed to talk Toni into making up numbers, and if she may have been a bit bossy within the last week or two. The horse manure played a part in us getting even again!

Rugby in the winter, the river in the summer, and cowboys and Indians all year, and just roaming the countryside – that was what Kaikou was all about. Marbles were a passion, we learned the string games at

Te Horo, knucklebones and top spinning. The tops were either carefully selected pinecones or carefully shaped from any suitable timber we might find lying around and powered with our handmade string whips

Stockwhips were part of the scene out there so we had to imitate our elders and have whips too. We’d spend hours and hours selecting the right flax leaves, cutting them carefully to size and length, then using toes to hold the knot at the thickest end of the flax, start plaiting the four strips together. We would then find a nice piece of Titree or Lancewood for the handle. Then the secret to the sound of it – the cracker attached to one end of the four plait whip. This was made of flax laboriously scraped clean leaving only the fibre which was twisted and knotted into a whippy cracker about 18 inches long. We became really expert at making these while being expert at cracking them too.

Another boyish interest in the properties of spit fascinated us for a while. There was big skeleton of a bullock dray on the side of the road opposite the house and we could spend a lot of Kaikou time seeing whose gob of spit could race the others down the slope of those enormous steel wheels.

I do remember two marvellous rainy days. We used to spend hours planning. One was a marathon bicycle trip, when we didn’t have any bikes. The other was planning a nice house to live in.

Dad probably set the seed for the bike trip with his constant stories about the wonderful Bay of Plenty and the larger than life people and families who lived there.

Opotiki and Bay of Plenty became a Nirvana for us and the thought of pedalling into that fabled town dusty and dirty on our fantasy bikes, after weeks of toil and struggle really grabbed us and that pilgrimage was going to be our “Great Adventure”.

From there on, every spare moment was spent pouring over our road map, sorting out which route to take and where we were going to camp every night.

I’ve had a few bike trips since then, but never one as enjoyable as that.

It was the dreaming that was the best part, and Mum always encouraged us to dream, She enjoyed dreaming about a better house to live in, and the planning that eventually went into the building of the little bach at Ngungru she designed, rubbed off onto Toni and to a lesser extent, on me. That was a craze for a while, drawing out the floor plans of all sorts of exotic structures. One craze of Toni’s that Ross and I could never take to, was her passion for paper cut-out dolls. Her little cardboard dolls were the best dressed people in our house.

Whenever the weather was right, we’d head for the river. That river was the centre of our universe. If we weren’t swimming in it, we’d be eeling or just generally fossicking around. We longed for a canoe. The house and lav were made out of corrugated iron, so why not make a corrugated iron canoe? We did. It sank.

There were tennis courts at the Marae and as we got older, Mum and Dad suggested that if we picked enough blackberries and sold them in Whangarei we could earn enough to buy our own racquets. So we did. Many five gallon kerosene tins full later, we had our brand new racquets.

 

Te Aperehama Makapai Marae

The Marae was the social hub of Kaikou. All the Maori gatherings, Tangi’s, Hui’s, church services, and tennis days. Every now and then they’d hold a dance, and if Ces Wright’s band was playing, it would be a capacity house. Everyone turned up from babes in arms to Grandparents. We’d tear round all night slipping and sliding across the floor and if we were really lucky, Ces would do incredible things with his false teeth while waggling his ears just for us kids. But the day at the Marae I remember best, was the day the Abbot’s became part of Kaikou, part of the wild west society out there, and that was the day that Dad rode the wild bull at the annual rodeo.

I think it started as a joke on the bus. A dare to see what the overweight Pakeha driver would look like on a horse. We hadn’t  been there long and I don’t think the locals knew that Dad was a skilled horseman. It was the high point of the meeting. The locals had all turned up when they heard that Dad had entered for the bull ride, and when he eased himself onto that broad back, there was one big chuckle of anticipation, and after he rode it to a standstill, I think we passed into local legend.

The trouble was he got all excited about his epic ride, and nothing would do but he had to turn us into rough-riders too. A couple of days later he managed to get a rope around one of the yearling calves that wandered near the house, and as I was the eldest, I had to have the first go. One pig jump and I went straight over it’s head. It’s two little horns leaving two little grooves down my chest!

As soon as Mum saw the damage, that was the end of our rough-riding careers.

Some lovely music came out of the old hall. On quiet Sunday evenings as the church service ended, we could hear each family singing their way homewards. The Shortland family walked right past our bedroom window. We would poke our heads out and say hello and goodnight then back to bed and listen to that beautiful harmonising drifting into the distance as they walked that mile or so home. Dad just loved Maori music and I think it’s in my blood now too. Those beautiful sounds we grew up with are within me now, they are part of me. When I hear Maori’s singing together, I’m back again in Kaikou and there are two or three or twenty Maoris making magic music, and Dad revelling in it.

 

The Big Smoke

Although we were country kids, we did enjoy a trip to town. We’d get dressed up. I remember Ross and I had Donegal Tweed coats and shorts. Toni has a sort of fitted and buttoned long coat, and Mum I remember best in a lovely deep red coat and hat and of course if we were going to see North Auckland play at Rugby Park, Dad would have his gabardine coat on and hat with a real rake to it.

One of our greatest treats was to occasionally have lunch with Dad and his friends in a big restaurant in Rathbone Street. The waitresses would make a fuss of us and we would feel very grand.

Then one day we found that a Fish and Chip shop had opened in James Street. You could stand at the window and actually see the whole delicious procedure. The sizzle of the chips as they sank beneath the boiling fat. Baskets of fish coming out boiling brown and the cook conducting it all – and the smells. From then on, that was our No. 1 attraction in Whangarei. Kaikou had nothing to match those boiling vats.

The second-hand bookshops were where we stocked up on a new supply of comics, and Coutts the Chemists always had marvellous books to look through, until you got chased out. But it was the Chinese who lived in the house across the street from the bus depot who fascinated me.

It was a very old house, front door opening right onto the footpath and these Chinese children would occasionally come out and sit on the doorstep, or scurry up the street on an errand. We never spoke. They would stay on their side of the street and we on ours – lets just stare!!!!

I’d only read about them – inscrutable Chinese, and here they were, straight opposite the depot.

 

Golden Days at Ngunguru

Because Dad shared the bus depot with Karl and Isaac Erceg who operated the Matapouri bus, we started spending some of our summer holidays at Ngunguru. All we loved about the river at Kaikou was here but better. Sandy beaches, swimming and fishing where we could actually catch something. The old plank bridge over the small tidal stream was a marvellous spot for catching tommy cods and sprats. We could spend all day there. Then any there was the rope swing over the gigantic sand hill at Wellingtons Bay. The cricket matches we used to play in the evenings on the beach, and if we were lucky, Mum or Dad would hire one of the fleet of clinker-built dinghys on the foreshore and we could go for a row.

We made friends with Chris Delaveaux and joined his gang and threw stones and insults at the Fulljames gang. The Delaveaux family fascinated me. Their French name hints at romantic ancestory. The parents were teachers, yet unlike any teachers I’d ever met – untidy and casual. The father looked like a beachcomber. The house had lots of paintings and they were just different. I decided they were artists and intellectuals, because I’d never met any, but I’d been reading about them.

Chris’s older sisters Marie and Toni attracted too. They dressed differently, sort of gypsy-like. Yes I decided, they were definitely the most interesting family I’d ever met.

Mum and Dad seemed to enjoy it down there too and when they could afford it they decided to build a bach and I remember Mum spending hours designing the plans.

It was about this time that I was reading every book by Arthur Ransome I could get my hands on. “Swallows” and “Amazons” were my favourite. They were mostly about a family about our age, who had marvellous adventures messing about in boats.

So I was ripe for some sort of adventure myself and the next time Mum gave us a shilling for an hours boat hire, I’d made up my mind I wanted to see how far up the Ngunguru River we could get with the tide. Toni and Ross were keen so off we headed.

We took turns rowing and it was a marvellous day. I was hoping we could get as far as the Kiripaka Bridge, and eventually we made it.

Late that afternoon we finally rowed back to a very worried Mum and Dad. I can’t remember the repercussions, I was on that much of a high, but I think it was a while before we were allowed out in a boat again.

I do remember one very pleasant summer evening when the three of us sat up by the old quarry and serenaded Ngunguru at the top of our voices. It must have been our Kaikou musical background coming out in us.

Within the next five years our lives changed forever. Ashley came along then Chris and we had two baby sisters to dote on. Then Mum read two books by Louis Bromfield – “Pleasant Valley” and “Malabar Farm”.

We all loved those wonderful stories and within a couple of years the bach was sold, then the bus-run, and Mum and Dad bought their dream farm.

I left barefooted childhood behind and entered gumbooted adolescence.

We all have special memories of our childhood, but for me those simple days at Kaikou were my freedom years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

An open letter to the internet

Rays!Hi Internet, you remember me? We’ve known each other for about 20 years now. I remember when we first met; you were very young at the time. You were pretty shy I guess. I mean I’d ask you something and you’d take ages to answer. You liked to show me stuff you knew about but it took me a long time to get any information out of you. I don’t think you were holding back, you just had some trouble figuring out how to tell me things sometimes.

Some of the stuff you used to show me back then was kind of cool, I remember you being really proud of the things you could do that others couldn’t. That dancing baby you had was strangely compelling. I was always amazed at how much you knew about stuff and the people you knew. I remember when you first started to introduce me to your friends, we’d sit around and chat, we got to know each other pretty well and everyone seemed to think you were ok, a good friend to have.

I knew you had a dark side but I think that was just some of the people you hung out with, they were a bad influence. But you didn’t ever say no to them, you just let them do their thing no matter how weird it was and you became tainted by association.

It was awesome when you figured out how to get hold of all the music videos and share them with us, your friends. We totally loved that and when you helped us put our own videos up at your place that was even better. Well it was until those bad guys who kept hanging out around the back of your place started to put their weird stuff up all over the walls. But nobody made us look at it I suppose.

What I liked though was how you knew so much stuff, had access to everything and anything about whatever we needed to know but you kept yourself to yourself, sitting quietly in the corner of the room until we came over to speak with you.

Remember when you decided you could bring food to the house instead of us having to go out for it? Amazing, not just food though, anything! I just had to ask you to organize it for me and someone would turn up at my door a few days later. It was like I had the whole world at my finger tips and it was all down to you. You were the best friend ever.

I suppose it was only natural you’d want to get out more though. We kept asking you for everything, relying on you for everything and then going out into the world leaving you behind at home. I guess you felt abandoned quite a bit during the day.

I understand why you wanted to come along with us, I mean it was great that you could ride along, and then you could show us stuff on the way. Hold onto our photos and take notes, that sort of thing.

It’s understandable that we all asked so much of you and you gave so much that you’d want something back. I remember when you asked to meet all my friends. You asked me to introduce you to people who you could network with to help you learn things as well.

The trouble is, the more friends you made, that meant more people bringing their friends. You let them all have a say about anything, all the time. There was no limit to what you wanted to know. You started asking all those personal questions. You started suggesting what we might like to know instead of waiting for us to ask you. You invented that thumbs up thing when you figured out what we wanted most was just to be liked or at least approved of by everyone. We would start seeking a thumbs up all the time. The thumbs up became an obsession for a lot of people who didn’t get much approval in other parts of their life.

Then you started bringing people into our houses. People we hadn’t invited. If they asked you the right way, you’d tell them anything because you knew everything. You’d tell them stuff we’d told you in secret. You didn’t even know you’d told them but you did. You sold us out! I’m sure it was by accident but you did nonetheless. It was very disappointing, how you’d become like that.

You’d let anyone come round. People who simply disagreed with anything we might think out loud within earshot of you decided that as you’d told them, they could say whatever they liked to us, even if we didn’t know them. They could hide behind you and say vile things to us and about us even though it was nothing to do with them. You let them do it, why? They only do it because you let them, they wouldn’t do it if you didn’t. You let them hide. You need to cut that out. We’re your friends; those people just give you a bad name.

Then you started hassling us to show everything to everybody. You offered rewards and prizes to get even more information about us so you could sell it to people who want to sell us stuff. The trouble is some people can’t tell the difference between a real prize and a fake one by gangsters but you just let anyone ask. You don’t seem to care anymore who uses you to get what they want.

It’s not just me that’s just about had enough of how you are always in our pockets asking us to share stuff with you. A lot of people are. I know you didn’t force us to put you there but you made it very hard for us not to put you there didn’t you? You made yourself indispensable. People are starting to put videos and cartoons up on your own wall. Having a go at you, at themselves, at each other for trusting you and using you so much. What does that tell you?

I guess I can’t do anything about how you’ve become anybodies for anything and you encourage everyone to share everything even though most of it should be kept or should have stayed private. I’m just not cool with it anymore. I’m not cool with you wanting to join me everywhere I go. I liked it better when you stayed home and I came to you for stuff I needed. That’s probably a bit selfish but you let us needing you so much go to your head. You got power crazy maybe.

Anyway. I can’t turn back the clock but what I can do is leave you at home. I’m not going to invite you to come out with me anymore. I’m not going to tell you stuff anymore, as I know you can’t keep a secret. I know it’s not your fault. It’s mine. I guess none of us knew what you might become when we first met you. You were so shy and withdrawn. If I was to put something positive on all this, it’s amazing what you can achieve with a lot of encouragement. I think that applies to anyone though, not just you and I still like that you’ll tell me absolutely anything that I want to know. I just don’t like what you do with what you know sometimes.

You’re going to show this to everyone as well aren’t you? I actually hope you do.

 

 

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

An interview

New Zealand Farm shed, Rangitikei

New Zealand Farm shed, Rangitikei

I was asked to do an interview by one of those expat blog sites. There are a few of them where people who like to spend their time living overseas can go to find out all sorts of things about living overseas. They have an expat interviews section on this particular site where they ask expats about all the things other expats might like to know about…expats. They said they would give me a button for my site. I have no idea what I might do with a button for my site but I thought I would do the interview anyway, just for fun.

When they asked me if I’d do an interview as I had a popular blog with some expat themes included, they were undeterred when I informed them I was an ex-expat as I had moved back home to New Zealand.

It seems a waste to spend all that time answering such detailed, probing questions about myself without sharing them with you so I’m doing just that. You can have a read of my interview before the cool expats blog site publishes it. I wonder what my button will do.

 

Introduce yourself
I’m Sandy of Sandysviews blog, Sandy isn’t a girls name, Sandi is a girls name. Sandy is the Scottish abbreviation of Alexander which is my real name, but everyone calls me Sandy. I’m a New Zealander who spent 22 years in England.
Why did you move abroad?
I was going to go travelling when I left the army, but I didn’t. Instead I waited until I should have been settling down and buying a house. I went abroad because I felt like I’d made a mess of everything in New Zealand. I ran away to see what I could make out of a life overseas.
How do you make a living?
I work in sales, I sell things. Actually it’s not that simple, I’m a Business Development Manager, I worked in media for years in London. Radio and magazine advertising sales for a while. I also worked in International Inflight Magazine representation which was pretty cool. When I got too old to look the part of trendy thrusting bright young thing in media,  too old being 30, I turned to Insurance where you are encouraged to look older and sensible, like you know a bit about everything and how to insure it. So I after my glitzy media career, I started working in commercial insurance sales for a few years. I’d continue but you’ve fallen asleep. You’ll be sorry you did when your stuff catches on fire and you thought insurance was too boring to take any interest in though.
How often do you communicate with home and how?
Not often, I’d call once a month or so, say hi to my mum. I used Facebook a lot to keep up with what was going on back at home and show people what I was having for dinner or amusing videos of animals.
What’s the worst thing about being an Expat in England?
You are as far as New Zealand as it’s possible to get and everything happens at home while you are asleep because England is 12 hours behind New Zealand in the opposite time zone. You dread the phone call in the middle of the night. Nobody ever rang with good news in the middle of the night. If the phone goes while you are asleep, chances are somebody has died. It’s not a good way to be woken up.
What was your favourite thing about being an Expat in the UK?
I loved all the history everywhere. Coming from a young country like New Zealand where all we have is the most incredible and beautiful sights of natural wonder everywhere, it’s nice to see an old Castle, or a man riding a horse mounted on a plinth here and there.
What did you miss most?
I think what I missed most was home, New Zealand, all the time, every minute of every hour of every day when I wasn’t thinking about something else. That and ice-cream in a cone from a dairy.
What did you do to integrate and meet people in your new home?
I left the house and there they all were, right there.
What Customs/Habits did you find strange about your adopted culture?
Apologising for something that was somebody else’s fault. For example an English person would say “I’m terribly sorry, but you’ve just stood on my foot”. Also the Morris Dancing. There’s just no place for it in modern culture. Watching a dozen grown men dance about waving handkerchiefs with bells on their socks to accordion music is just plain odd.
What is a Myth about your adopted country?
St George didn’t really slay any Dragons. Apart from that all the myths about the British are facts.
Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in?
Seeing as I’ve returned home to New Zealand, the last country I lived in was England. The cost of living is much the same with some significant differences. It would become very tedious if I was to explain the detail but to summarise, the cost of living in New Zealand is quite similar to England now. Although more importantly, the quality of life is much better in New Zealand than in England. Unless your quality of life is measured by your ability to view world-class art/music/theatre and impressive man-made structures in which case New Zealand is a bit rubbish. All we have is the worlds greatest natural environment, peace and freedom with a generally friendly and helpful demeanour in our populace. We also have very good ice-cream and beer.
What advice would you give other expats?
Don’t be an expat, Just be yourself. You’ve moved abroad, neither denigrate your origin nor your destination as not being as good as the other. Use the knowledge you’ve bought and enjoy the knowledge you’ll gain. Combine the two into making your own life experience better. Don’t play one-off against the other. The grass isn’t greener on either side of the fence. It’s just the grass you have to make the best of because it’s now under your feet.
When and why did you start your blog?
My father died suddenly in 2009 and I had to speak at his funeral. Because he wasn’t one for telling us anything about his life, because I’d left home to go to Boarding School then joined the Army. Because I’d lived abroad for most of my adult life, I knew very little about my father. I decided to write my own life story down as I’d had an interesting life. I’m also quite opinionated and vocal, I have a lot to say. I decided to write down my view on things after I’d written my life story. My view on things became Sandysviews, it’s an eclectic blog serving no purpose. When I write anything I have to be happy that each post fills my own criteria. It must be informative, educational, inspirational, amusing or entertaining or ideally more than one of those things. I have no timetable to post stuff on it, only as something occurs to me that I have a mind to write down. Sandysviews has now been seen in 190 countries. I’m hugely proud of that. I write to entertain other people, I wouldn’t do it just for myself.
So there you go. Now I want my button.

 

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

In the news

Stop pressWhen I lived in England I used to be an avid reader of newspapers. I used to watch the news on television every night without fail. Since returning to New Zealand my consumption of current events seems to be almost entirely via the radio or online. When I am consulting news media on the Internet I mostly use the New Zealand Herald or the BBC News sites. If I am in the mood for a laugh, I might have a quick look at the English ‘Daily Mail’ Website. I gather it’s the biggest website in the world now which is hugely depressing given the relentless barrage of pointless speculation, xenophobia, fear mongering and reportage of minor ‘celebs’ who but for their regular coverage by the Daily Mail and other gossip sites disguised as news media would be entirely unknown.

While I’m discussing English Newspapers, there is something about them you won’t know unless you are English. All Newspapers in England make an outward statement about their reader. You are defined somewhat by the newspaper you read, or ‘take’ as the more upmarket English refer to the procurement of a broadsheet or tabloid. “Oh Do you take the Times? I take the Telegraph,” one might say.

So what do I mean about what a Newspaper says about the reader? It goes as follows, I’ll just use the most widely read papers for sake of brevity as this is meant to be an informative digression and not the point of the post.

The Times is a somewhat highbrow vessel for the City gentleman or lady who likes the opinions of Rupert Murdoch. It’s for those members of the Establishment who don’t like the governing Conservatives until Rupert Murdoch decides he does. The ink comes off on your fingers.

The Guardian is read by socialists and social workers. If you ‘take the Guardian’ you are a rampant lefty.

The Daily Telegraph is effectively the propaganda vessel of the Conservative Government so is also known as ‘The Torygraph’. Its ink also comes off on your fingers.

The Daily Mail in paper form (The website is very Americanized) could also be known as ‘the Xenophobes Digest’ but it would be too hard to say and sounds a bit foreign. If Hitler were an Englishman, he would have ‘taken’ the Daily Mail. I used to suffer from anxiety and depression until I stopped reading the Daily Mail and I was cured immediately.

The Mirror and The Sun appear to be for the manual labourers and football hooligans. They are comics in Newspaper form. The Mirror is basically the simplified version of a Labour Party Manifesto and the Sun has a half naked lady on page 3 to be ogled by men in Hi-Viz clothing drinking builder’s tea in ‘Caf’s’.

You see? Careful what you inadvertently buy from a newsstand in Britain. You may be making a statement you don’t wish to make.

Back to the news. It struck me that there was a consistency in the News reports I was reading and hearing. It began to occur to me that you don’t have to tune into the news all that regularly and this extrapolated into an idea for an annual news summary for anyone in the world to see what was going on elsewhere in the world at a glance. Give or take the occasional catastrophe or natural disaster. I’m going to undertake a public service by summarizing the news for you. Regardless of where you live.

Headlines:

A politician was loudly accused by other politicians of using their power for personal gain or to the betterment of influential people with money.

The political parties from either side of the spectrum accused each other of incompetence and fiscal mismanagement.

Someone recognizable in a position of influence decried corruption, violence or brutality in a third world continent or country.

The climate is not something we can control, It’s warmer now than it was and it’s probably our fault.

NATIONAL NEWS:

There was a car accident in which a salt of the earth character died. They were loved by everyone and always helped others while making them laugh. It’s a tragedy.

A politician was accused of something they shouldn’t have done.

The Economy is moving, either up or down.

Houses cost too much.

Unemployment causes problems and we need to look to future development of our economy.

People are getting older which is a ticking time bomb for the economy.

The host country of the newspaper did something significant on the international stage.

REGIONAL NEWS:

The Rescue Helicopter was called to rescue someone injured doing something they shouldn’t have been doing in a hazardous location.

A well-known local character caught a big fish.

Some school children undertook a pointless exercise to break a record in order to raise money for a worthy cause.

Local councilors are accused of overriding local interests in some infrastructure project, which while benefitting the local economy will cause some unattractive works near a beauty spot.

Local teams performed well in some national sporting occasion.

A well-known character is retiring after many years of community service.

An old lady made an extraordinary number of things by knitting or crocheting.

WORLD NEWS:

 In Africa. Rebels invaded a neighbouring country shooting large numbers of people from other tribes or cultures, or religions.

In Europe. The French and Germans made some statements about the EU and expansion of European Federalism being a good thing.

In the east of Europe, the locals want to be European but the Russians want them to be Russian.

In South America. Poor people got publicly rambunctious about their deteriorating personal situations.

In the Middle East. Religious people killed other religious people for thinking the wrong thing. Car bombs were exploded in markets by religious fanatics because they disapproved of the people who were shopping at the time thinking the wrong thing about who God was or what he might have thought.

Young people demonstrated loudly about wanting an iPad, the internet and Democracy but the old people who employ the army and police think the young people should stick with religion and tyranny, they used and tear gas guns to convince them of the merits of the old fashioned ways of life.

Various Dictators in the region oppressed their subjects to greater or lesser extent.

In Asia. The Japanese and the Chinese made statements to the detriment of each other over some islands.

The Korean Peninsula continues to be a tinderbox.

India is accused of spending too much money on technology while millions live in poverty.

Countries ending in ‘stan have too many insurgents who keep causing trouble or their leaders don’t appear to have western interests at heart as much as the west would like.

In Oceania. Australians appear to be a nation of racists by happily putting all refugees in prison and New Zealanders don’t make the international news unless they are teenagers good at golf or singing or the Hobbits come to visit.

The Future Queen of England, Australia, New Zealand and the greater Commonwealth wears the same frock twice and gets a new haircut.

In USA and Canada.

The Republicans and Democrats argue over who should be in charge and do everything in their power to undo everything the other party tries to do for the betterment of America out of spite.

There are tornadoes in the middle bit of America.

The President makes a long-winded statement about the issue of the day as though the American opinion of the event is the only one that matters.

A famous person gets engaged, or divorced.

A famous actress leaves her underpants at home when she should have known better.

A famous actor shows his underwear on purpose.

The UN issues a strongly worded condemnation of bad behaviour by nations behaving badly, but do nothing further.

Nothing happened in Canada.

BUSINESS NEWS: 

Men who own large companies earn too much money.

Banks want less regulation so they can take more of peoples money and charge them more for storing it.

People who run the internet earn another trillion dollars for making young people look at their smartphones more often.

SPORTS NEWS

In Soccer, Golf and Tennis the usual suspects played each other and the results went largely as expected. In other sports, much the same.

Some athletes get caught taking drugs.

That’s enough news for this year. If there is a major catastrophe, the first few pages of the international papers will be devoted to extensive coverage and Her Majesty the Queen, when asked for a comment, will be shocked and saddened.

So, that’s saved you consulting the Internet or newspapers to read a new variation of the same story every day.

Didn’t someone say no news is good news?

 

Categories: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Misconceptions

View from Mt RuapehuMisconceptions often, or even usually, arise out of ignorance and I must confess to my own ignorance. I have no idea at all what people from Asia or the Sub-continent think of when they think of New Zealand. Having said that, I also haven’t a clue what the people of South America or Africa might think of New Zealand if they think of it at all. But they might have more of a connection than they realize. I’ll come back to that.

I do know what the English, Europeans and the small handful of Americans who have heard of us think of New Zealand though and those are the misconceptions I can address.

His Royal Highness Prince William Arthur Philip Louis, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, Baron Carrickfergus, Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Personal Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty The Queen, (to give him his full title), his lovely wife Princess Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge and their Heir, George, are visiting New Zealand at the moment and are having a splendid time by all accounts. There are several dozen representatives of the worlds media accompanying them and reporting on their every move and utterance. This is great for tourism apparently as searches for New Zealand have dramatically increased on the internet in countries that have access to it.

These searches will mostly give you information on how to get here and no doubt be accompanied with some images of our amazing scenery. The thing is though that there is much ‘New Zealandness’ to navigate between bits of natural wonder. Those are the misconceptions I am going to address. There will also be a poem to finish. I’m trying my hand at poetry a bit these days.

The phrase ‘rugby, racing and beer’ was quoted in the New Zealand Herald just the other day in relation to something about the ‘New Zealandness’, which their Royal Highnesses might encounter. I can only assume the journalist who quoted it is from overseas and last visited New Zealand in the 1970’s when that phrase would have been appropriate.

It’s time to discuss misconceptions. My experience of what people from abroad, (by that I mean England, Europe and North America) think of us is as follows.

They think we are all sheep farmers or if not actually farming then certainly having inappropriate relationships with our sheep. When we take a break from doing things with Sheep, we play some rugby before throwing ourselves off a tall bridge or significant piece of infrastructure while tied to an elastic band. We all know how to do a Haka and perform it at the first opportunity. We grow Sauvignon Blanc in abundance. They also think New Zealand is part of Australia or certainly near enough to swim between them if the bridge isn’t finished yet. Our forests are teeming with Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves or Orcs and we have bubbling mud everywhere you look.

Which is not actually the case.

What we do mostly is go to work like everybody else. The only people in New Zealand who are remotely interested in sheep are sheep farmers and there are less of them then you might think. When you visit New Zealand you will mostly hear about and see cows rather than sheep. We are the world’s biggest exporter of dairy products now and we supply extraordinary amounts of milk-based stuff to South America and Africa along with the rest of the world. We have a lot of sheep, but we hear more about cows.

We drink a lot of coffee; the Kiwi’s are obsessed with coffee. Wellington has the highest number of Cafés per capita of any country. Everywhere you look in New Zealand are coffee bars, there are even vans on the side of the road selling coffee. New Zealand must be the coffee drinking capital of the world.

For some reason Kiwis are Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir drinkers by and large. We make a load of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay alongside some amazing Bordeaux style reds but the Kiwis think Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are the wines to have.

We don’t drink as much beer as we used to and we pay too much for it. New Zealanders will tell you of the amazing ‘craft beer’ you can buy here. “Don’t drink the mainstream stuff, have a fantastic craft beer,” they will tell you as though it is some sort of new elixir of the gods found only in New Zealand.

Having tried craft beer I can confirm that it tastes like beer but costs three times as much. I’m not convinced of its merits.

The amazing natural wonder is everywhere you look but the bubbling mud is harder to find, It’s pretty much restricted to a small area in the vicinity of Rotorua and Taupo where the earth’s crust is thinnest. We are covered in Volcanoes though, when I say covered, the North Island is. There are no volcanoes in the South Island. Completely different geological forces formed the two islands. Amazing I know!

We do spend an awful lot of time outdoors, not just because we have such incredible things to see out there but also because the television is woeful. New Zealand Television is mostly reality programming interspersed with low budget, poor quality advertising for three minutes every nine minutes. It’s horrendous. I must have watched about an hour of TV since I returned home last July, nearly 9 months ago. The old phrase ‘there’s nothing on the telly’ was never truer than in New Zealand.

So let’s go back outside. In between the amazing natural wonder are a number of roads to navigate. This is where another misconception needs to be corrected. It’s often said that New Zealanders are very friendly and helpful, which they are until they get into a car.

New Zealanders are the worst drivers in the civilized world. This is because not one of them has been trained by a professional driving instructor. They have all been taught to drive by friends and relatives whose driving skills also went unexamined by a professional driving instructor. They have been taught bad habits and selfishness by people who learned to drive on empty roads. It’s a national travesty. You will be incredulous on a daily basis watching the Kiwis move about in motor vehicles. It’s not so much lack of driving skill but a complete disregard for other road users which is the issue. For example, giving way is an anathema to Kiwi drivers, like admitting weakness.

The indicator should be renamed ‘the statement’. Once the indicator has been used this means the vehicle is actually changing direction, not merely indicating it’s intention. The driver has made a statement rather than an indication of lane changing or turning. Not just intending to, but the stating the vehicle is on it’s way immediately into your path and it’s now up to you to make allowances or crash into it.

I don’t know where the Kiwi’s are off to when they go driving, probably to some of our amazing beaches which are certainly worth visiting, but I know where they are not going. The Rugby.

New Zealanders do not go to the Rugby anywhere like as much as they used to. The professional era has dulled our taste for the game by giving us too much of it. We are ‘rugby’d out’. Our kids still play the game enthusiastically but few people I know can be bothered to go along to yet another game of Super Rugby at enormous cost. Look at the once great rugby venues renamed for sponsors. The mighty Lancaster Park in Christchurch is now called the AMI Stadium. Carisbrook in Dunedin, was known as ‘the house of pain’. It was demolished and now it’s called the Forsyth Bar Stadium, not quite the same thing at all.

Rugby Park in Hamilton is now called the Waikato Stadium but the reason we don’t go there and watch rugby is not to do with being rugby’d out. It’s because of the incessant and constant ringing of cowbells by the home crowd, as the people of the Waikato are keen on cows. The din keeps traveling fans of visiting teams away. In Palmerston North the locals go to the rugby wearing buckets on their heads and I bet you think I’m making that up. They even have a catchy name for themselves, ‘The bucket heads’. There’s not much else to do in Palmerston North though. I came up with a catch phrase, or a tag line for the city.

‘Palmy, nobody visits here so it’s easy to park’.

What do you think?

The rugby park in Wellington is called the Westpac Stadium. It’s never full. Not even when the All Blacks are playing there. I’ve written a poem about that.

We still love our rugby, but can’t afford to go to the game anymore and there are too many games to go to.

I’ll wind this up and post my poem at the end.

So there you go, the ‘New Zealandness’ between the incredible natural beauty, wonder and scenery is not actually about sheep, rugby, bungy jumping and hobbits. It’s about coffee, wine and cows. The Natural beauty, wonder and scenery is the best thing about New Zealand. It’s the most incredible scenery in the world and we have it in abundance at every turn, just keep your wits about you while driving among it. Oh and don’t go by camper van. I have no idea what the point of that is. Rent a car and stay in Motels.

My Poem, it’s about Wellington.

 

A bloke goes off to Wellington, to watch a game of sport,

In the park all by himself, alone to hold the fort.

Watching rugby in the capital’s a lonely thing to do

They’re funny folk in Wellington, not at all like me or you

 

They like to sit in trendy bars and drink a trendy beer

Or chatter in a coffee shop and bend each other’s ear

The game is on, the sport is great but they don’t give a stuff

The gentle souls of Wellington don’t like when things get rough

 

They want to talk philosophy or drink some herbal tea

Not see a bloody rugby game out there with you and me

 

They work as civil servants, or in offices and schools

Insurance men, ‘head office’ staff, investment banker tools

 

They call it windy Wellington, it’s scenic and it’s small

Most kiwis if they’re honest though don’t like it much at all

 

Not just because they hate the game and spend their time inside

You would as well if your weather made you feel so woe betide

 

No, nor because it’s full of students, lefties or musicians

The problem is with Wellington, it’s full of politicians.

 

You’re welcome!

 

 

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Dawn and Dusk

 

I wrote recently how I was of the opinion that despite the adage, a picture was not in fact worth a thousand words because I felt you generally needed so many words to describe the picture. My position, put simply, was that each great picture needed volumes of words to explain it. I was of course talking about art rather than photography, which often doesn’t need a descripion because the image captured is supposed to tell the story. You interpret the photograph to your own personal perspective.

I’ve been back in New Zealand now for nearly 9 months. I have been taking a lot of photographs because I’m a keen amateur photographer. Emphasis on the amateur. I have a nice camera and try to capture things I like the look of for posterity. Whose posterity I’m not exactly sure but I have a load of photographs. I’ve put a very few of those on the photographic pages of this blog or mostly on my social media outlets. Facebook, Instagram (I’m sandysviews on there as well) and Twitter but it occurred to me today that most of the people who come to my blog are not on any of those platforms so you’ve been missing out on my latest favourite thing to take a picture of, Sunrises and Sunsets. I can’t have you missing out so I’m going to remedy that.

I’ve been here in New Zealand with our incredible natural light and subsequently the most amazing sunrises and sunsets on earth happening right in front of me. I’m going to post a few here. These are just the start and end of any other day in New Zealand from my little corner of it. I hope you enjoy the selection. No filters or Photoshop effects or enhancements have been used. This is simply what I can see from where I spend my time. If you feel inclined to click on the photos you’ll get a larger image.

It’s nice here.

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Home away from home

The view from my place

The view from my place

Did you know that despite having the perfect platform in this blog, I hardly ever make any strong points about anything important to anyone but me? I don’t even do that very often. Part of the reason is that my blog is intended primarily to entertain, inform, educate, amuse, or maybe even inspire. Yeah, I know, but that’s what it’s intended to do.

The other reason may well be that I don’t feel particularly strongly about many of the things the rest of the world gets very ventilated about. I’m not very ‘green’ but I don’t like littering. I get a bit cross with people who don’t use their chance to vote in a democracy when many people across the world die from the direct consequences of a lack of a right to vote. I don’t like people who are cruel to people or animals and I’m big on being straight and honest with people. Other than that I’m fairly relaxed about most things I guess. Well I’m not, but I’m on a bit of a word limit here.

However…

I do feel very strongly and have written about the ‘oarsumness’ of New Zealand, the consequences of not backing yourself, poor decision making, disengaged educators, inconsiderate drivers, poor parenting (despite having no children myself) and I also don’t think you should put your dog in prison when you go on holiday. I’ll come back to that.

On a related topic, no really, it is! I was asked recently where I considered my home from home to be. I had to pause for reflection. It was a bit uncomfortable, as I don’t actually have a home anymore unless you consider a whole country a home. I made a choice to move from what was my home in England to New Zealand. I now live in a rented place. But I think of it as my place rather than my home. It’s a nice place. I have a beautiful view and surroundings, but it’s not ‘home’. So I was at a loss to think where a home from home might be.

I made the choice to move, I bought the lack of homeliness upon myself. It was a conscious decision I was able to make but it still feels a bit odd not to have a place to call home. A bit sad for some reason. I guess we would all like to have a home, but some of us just have a place instead. I do have a point…

What is it that makes a place, or a house a home? I think it’s a dog. Not a fetching hat rack.

Think about it. If you find yourself in a place that you had yet to call home and you’ve got a dog, your faithful hound, greeting you enthusiastically when you get back from wherever you’ve been without him, you would feel like you’ve been welcomed home wouldn’t you?

If you are in a place where you can make the conscious decision to take on the responsibility of having a dog around, that’s a home surely? Your dog makes it become a home I think. The dog will certainly look at home when he lays legs akimbo in his basket, without a care in the world because he knows you are looking out for him while he takes a break from looking out for you.

You’ll be out walking your dog and at some stage you will think it to yourself or say it to your dog, ‘come on boy, that’s enough, let’s go home’.

So how does one have a home from home if you don’t have a home as such? I guess my home from home is a really nice hotel that I like very much. I know the one I liked most that I would like to call a home from home. It was the best hotel I ever stayed in. I’ll tell you where it is at the end of this post. That would be my home from home. A lovely hotel somewhere fabulous. Luckily for me I know just the place.

I was talking about how a dog makes a home. When I was in England I had the world’s most friendly and handsome hound. His name was Bruno. He was one of the best examples of his particular breed in all the world but I couldn’t care less about that. His dad won the Hound group at Crufts in 1997 and got to the grand final. I didn’t know that when I met Bruno, or Houndy as he was mostly referred to as time went by.

As an aside. Without wishing to pass any judgement on the people who show dogs, I could never be one of them. I have no idea why you would take your dog, who you already know to be the best dog in the whole world to a place where a stranger will most likely tell you otherwise. This stranger will manhandle your best friend and then judge it against other dogs before probably telling you that yours isn’t as good as the others. Why would you do that? I’m sure you have splendid reasons, but it’s not for me.

Come on though, even if you win, why do you need a person you don’t know to tell you if your dog is any good or not? Your dog won’t know the difference, just that it had to walk funny on a short lead all day and have a person touching it’s bits all the time. NO dog thinks that’s fun. Well I haven’t asked them but I’m sure they don’t. Maybe you have. No judgement being passed here, save that for the show ring.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. Bruno was from such a pedigree that he could have won dog shows if I was inclined to take him. But I just loved my hound. I didn’t need anyone to tell me how special he was. You could see it in his eyes and demeanour. Everyone who met him loved him. Bruno was a gentleman among hounds. Bruno’s favourite place in the world was by my side. Anyone would feel at home with my hound relaxing extravagantly beside them. See?

Houndy relaxing

Houndy relaxing

I’m not going to tell a big story about my hound but I had to leave him at his home in England when I came back to New Zealand, as he would not have survived the journey. It was heartbreaking. I found out a couple of weeks ago that my special boy had died. He was 13, which is pretty good for a hound. I can’t talk too much more about that, as it’s too sad. Bruno was a Petit Bassett Griffon Vendeen.

 

Bruno, 'Houndy'

Bruno, ‘Houndy’

RIP Houndy, my special boy.

So as Bruno, or Houndy was so special to me, I’m going to use my blog to pass on something I feel strongly about to you. Because I can.

As much as we love our pets or our hairy children, sometimes we have to go places they can’t. So that’s what a home from home has got to do with this. I mentioned I think a nice hotel is my home from home. A dog’s home is with you when you think about it. Wherever you are, your faithful hound will just be happy to be with you, but can’t always be if you have to be somewhere your hound or dog can’t go. Like when you go on holiday overseas or just somewhere your dog can’t follow. Do you know where I’m going with this yet?

When you go to your home from home, where your dog can’t go, what do you do with them? You make a decision that they can’t make; yet too many people make a decision their pets wouldn’t make, why?

Don’t send your pet, your friend, your faithful hound to what is effectively a prison when you go on holiday!

Find a nice person you trust to look after them in their home, or employ a reputable, reliable company to do it or get someone to dog sit in your house when you are away from home. Don’t put them in a place full of other dogs in cages with hard cold floors, hard beds and rationed attention. I’m sure there is a good reason people use them but I have no idea what that might be.

When you have to be away from your loyal dog, your faithful hound or even your haughty cat, get them looked after properly by people who will take care of them as you would while you are away, where they can sleep in their own bedding, have their own safe space, their own other place. Their home away from home because to your dog, who made your place a home? You are their home.

They’ll demonstrate that to you when you get back, which is the best bit of going away sometimes.

I’m done now, made my point. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Oh and that home away from home hotel? The best hotel I ever stayed in? The Minerva, on Capri.

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

It must be love

Pip and BrunoThat’s not so much a heading as a command.

With the recent death of tall glamorous designer L’Wren Scott in the news, it’s hard to miss all the pictures of her alongside her boyfriend, the less photogenic Mick Jagger. Mr Jagger is a worldly famous rock musician with a very famous band. They still tour the world after about 50 years of playing when other men their age would be doing the gardening with grandchildren, or have died.

This isn’t about L’Wren or Mick, it’s about what gets people together in the first place, how and why they stay together and the fall out from being in the wrong relationship, with the wrong person, for the wrong reasons.

I’m not going to make any reference to the reasons they were together as I don’t know them. I’m sure they were very much in love and shared a passion for creative things, her frocks and his music. They probably also liked to go out and spend time with other famous creative people. Travelling to fabulous places and doing all the things unimaginable wealth and influence allows one to enjoy. That’s not what I’m going to talk about. I’m going to talk about you and me, or is it you and I? I don’t know which is correct. I didn’t pay enough attention in school.

The title is ‘it must be love’. The reason it must be love is because anything else is a compromise, a compromise for you and for the one you are with. There was another popular song with the lyrics ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with’. Sounds good in principle but not so nice for the one you are with because you couldn’t be with the one you loved.

You know what I mean don’t you?

People are in relationships with other people, long term ones, marriages, even though they know, knew from the first, that the person they are with isn’t the love of their life. Maybe they felt they would never meet that great love, maybe they did but didn’t get loved back, that’s even worse. That’s the worst thing I can imagine. People have taken a partner in life because they are a good provider, because despite their many faults they find them attractive, or funny, or kind to animals. Maybe the alternative of being alone made being with someone you were very fond of but didn’t actually love acceptable to you, because the alternative was too hard.

The thing is though, this is ok for some. Make sure you are one of the some it’s ok for or it will destroy you. Maybe it already is and you know it but are doing nothing about it. If you are happy being with your life partner, whatever you choose to call them because you like a pair of comfy slippers rather than great passion, great love. That’s great for you. If you can walk about in the knowledge that you settled for something ok rather than waiting or pursuing something epic and wonderful. I’m sad, but happy for you. I know what that’s like. Just know and accept that’s what you’ve chosen, on purpose.

If that’s not you though, if you aspired to, wished for, dreamed of the great love, the love of your life, the person of your dreams and you look at the person you are with and know they aren’t it, that’s destructive, toxic, certainly to you and also unfair to them. You are with someone wishing you weren’t.

Don’t do that to anyone, certainly don’t do it and pretend otherwise as that is disingenuous. If you’ve also lost your ability to be honest with them and with yourself, you’ve lost a fundamental ability to ever be truly happy. You will be sad, not a good sad either, like when you grieve for a lost friend or family member. A good sad you might feel at a weepy film. A cleansing sad. No, this is a terrible, mind eating, ruinous sad as you are sad for yourself, sad to your soul. Your soul is broken.

Don’t be in that place. I’ve been in that place and getting yourself out of it is hard, harder than probably anything you’ve done unless you’ve had a pretty tough old life.

If this rings any bells with you, if you know in your heart you are in the wrong place but the thought of escaping, undoing what you’ve done, telling the truth to everyone and to yourself and doing something to claim back yourself from your broken soul seems just too hard, it’s not. Well it is heart wrenching at the time, but you’ll sleep like a baby later.

All that stress, those anti depressants you take. The anxiety attacks for a reason you can’t fathom. The sadness you carry about like a lead weight. That stops. It all stops. Your life will change out of all recognition. You might end up with nothing physical to show for the life you had. You may find yourself without assets or your own home; you’ll probably have less ‘stuff’. But you will have reclaimed the most important thing of all. Your self-worth and self-belief. You did what was right for you and for the person you weren’t in love with but with because it was easy, or convenient or acceptable to others.

I’m just reflecting. I always maintained I could live in a mud hut with the love of my life, that nothing else would matter if I was with her.

I now know what that means if I didn’t stay true to it for most of my life so far. I’m poor; I’ve got no ‘stuff’, no assets. But I’m not living a lie. It’s very liberating.

Don’t wear a false smile. Don’t live a false life. If you are happy with the one you are with and you honestly like your life. I’m happy for you. If you are not though, If you are being destroyed daily by being in the wrong place with a broken soul. Only you can fix it. Don’t let it ruin your life.

People die over this stuff. Tormented to their end. Their friends write Rest in Peace on their headstone when they are gone. It’s better to live in peace, not torment. That shouldn’t come as news to anyone.

You’ll have all the time in the world to rest. You only have one life to enjoy in peace. The best peace is in yourself. Inner peace is found through being true to yourself and others. People don’t write many songs about that though. They mostly write about love, because it’s important.

Live life and love right. I just made that up, you can use it.

 

But wait! You need to see this, please read on. After I wrote the above post, this happened

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To the Gallows, a test of Love

His word’s, not mine… Read on

One of the great things about having a blog is the contact you get from people out in the world who might stumble across it. I’m very lucky to have quite a wide distribution now. Believe it or not my little corner of the internet has been viewed in 188 countries. That’s pretty much all of them that have an internet. I love the comments people make on my stuff and thankfully it’s all been pretty positive.

I also get the odd email. The following is the content of one I received last night which actually moved me to tears. I was so touched with what was in it I asked the sender if I could share it if I changed the names and thankfully he has said I could. So I am.

The following is the text of his email. I’m confident you’ll want to share it with other people. Please do as it’s the most wonderful, articulate expression of something we should be more aware of that I’ve ever seen. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Hi from the end of the world.

I had many thoughts whilst reading, and then re reading your latest offering. You see we’re not far apart in age (I’m slightly older), and we both grew up in a place that was until fairly recently, a bit like England was 20 years ago.

I agree with some of your views, others I may not, and probably like me, when you look back on the things you have said and done over the years, some will make the more ‘mature’ you cringe.

But that’s the critical thing in love, maturity. Some couples start off as childhood sweethearts, and stay together until old age parts them, their love has matured like the way that a piece of furniture develops a patina through age and use, sure there may be surface scratches, and a sticking drawer, or a creaky hinge over the years, but it has worked and stood the test of time for all to see.

Others come to love as they themselves mature, and their needs and views change. The journeys and adventures they have undertaken through the years may not be visible on the surface but their soul carries the dents, and scrapes from near misses. Evidence of the times when the unstoppable force encountered the immovable object, the fallout littering friends and family in dust, all that remains of a once prized, but fragile love.

With love, we forgive our partners things that we would never tolerate even from our siblings. We compromise and change our points of view, or in the case of Mr Springsteen’s lyrics, our clothes, our hair, our face. We eat things we would never have contemplated touching when we were the old ‘me’, and decline old favourites ‘because we don’t live that lifestyle anymore’ our partners also influence our taste in films, books and music.

On the subject of which, my other half got me listening to Jackson Browne, ‘Ready or not’ still makes me smile, it’s the way a lot of people learn that they actually love their partner, ‘Two of me, Two of you’ I guess is the way a lot of us feel when things go wrong, with a whole heap of songs covering just about every situation in between.

When things go wrong, we seek sanctuary and support with our partners, when even the places you thought were safe, and friends and workmates seem to turn against you, its love we look on to see us through the rough times. We look back fondly on things we have done, share the moment, and plan for the future.

My partner Marie literally sailed into my life about 20 years ago, I had a part time job (one of many) as Harbourmaster at the small harbour 1½ miles from the main village. It suited me I could spend time working on my boat, and get invited onto the visiting yachts for a cup of tea. It was just me, my dog, and my boat (and my music and books, but that makes the punch line a bit long), most of the visiting yachts came over from South Wales, a short journey of 18 miles away from the insanity of civilisation, to ‘paradise’ a tiny harbour tucked under the folds of the Devon hills.

Marie, her Husband Mike and 7year old Daughter Belinda regularly escaped across the water to ‘sanity’, and we became good friends. Over the next couple of years it became obvious that the marriage was starting to deteriorate, I became Marie’s shoulder to cry on (via the phone). She decided that she wanted to move to somewhere that reminded her of the way that England used to be when she was growing up, and so all of a sudden it was me, Marie, a ‘sprog’ and my dog (& boat).

I know that at about this point I should mention another Jackson Browne song (the last one I promise) ‘My problem is you’ but actually the one thing we promised each other was not to forget Rudyard Kiplings poem ‘The Thousandth Man’.

Over the following 18 years, as life has thrown its various spanners into our life, and on occasions we became temporarily distracted, and entrenched by things that seemed important at the time, and which sometimes made us lose sight of our master plan.

Somewhere along the way, probably for a Birthday or Christmas present, I was bought a Bodum glass milk frother, so that (before the influx of the ‘put a cartridge in and press a switch all in one coffee maker’ in just about everyone’s kitchen) we could have a weekend treat of a home made Cappuccino, and a ‘bake at home’ Croissant.

So now I was given a promotion from head veg peeler, to Coffee maker, and then one day as I was sprinkling chocolate onto the Coffee, in order to tell whose was whose (I don’t take sugar, Marie does) I put a heart shape on Marie’s Coffee, because it was a treat and she loved it and I loved her.

It made her laugh, and so at least15 years later I still do it, every time I make her a cup of Coffee, whether its at home, or knowing if I put a lid on a takeaway from a motorway services, that when I get back to the car and she takes the lid off….

This year on Valentines day, I took a Caffetiere and the milk frother with me when I went to visit her in the Hospice, I made her Coffee and as usual put a heart on it, she wasn’t able to drink it, but it made her smile and it made her cry, it did the same to the nurses.

Motor Neurone Disease is a horrible disease, it slowly takes away your body whilst leaving your mind intact. It’s been 2 1/2 years since the disease was diagnosed, and each time a muscle dies, part of our dream and the future we planned dies with it.

She’s back home with me now, in constant pain, unable to move without assistance. If she sleeps at night it’s only for about 45 minutes at a time, then she needs to be moved in order to settle down for the next 45mins.

I made her Coffee yesterday, she tried to drink some, but its not easy drinking Cappuccino through a straw. I’ll do the same again today, and tomorrow, and the next day, if she wants, I’ll probably still do so when she’s gone.

I sold the boat, the ‘sprog’s’ making her own life now, so it looks as before long it will just be me and ‘our’ dog.

I tried my best to stick with the ideal of the ‘Thousandth Man’, I just expected to have longer to get it right.

I wonder if years from now I will smile if I hear someone say that they would ‘Love’ a cup of Coffee.

All the best

Stuart

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Motor Neurone disease is a dreadful cruel thing. As ‘Stuart’ (not his real name) writes, it takes the body while leaving the mind intact. I’m not here fund raising, other organisations do that. Find them and make a contribution if you wish. This is an awareness thing. Awareness of what people suffer, those afflicted and those who love them that are left behind.

Hopefully it will just give you cause to stop for a moment and make you think about what you have and how you live and love. To make the most of what you’ve got while you’ve got it.

Thanks for reading ‘Stuart’s’ beautiful letter and thanks to him for writing it to me.

To save you looking it up, here is the Poem, one of Kipling’s finest

The Thousandth Man
One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it’s worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine nundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.

‘Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
Will settle the finding for ‘ee.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of ‘em go
By your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
But if he finds you and you find him.
The rest of the world don’t matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water.

You can use his purse with no more talk
Than he uses yours for his spendings,
And laugh and meet in your daily walk
As though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of ‘em call
For silver and gold in their dealings;
But the Thousandth Man h’s worth ‘em all,
Because you can show him your feelings.

His wrong’s your wrong, and his right’s your right,
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men’s sight –
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can’t bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot — and after!

Rudyard Kipling

Categories: Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , | 22 Comments

Keep it under your hat.

Hat

Did you know I almost always wear a hat?

This story is not about hats but in my house there is a thing known as the Panama hat cycle. I wear hats a lot. In the summer, my headwear of choice is a splendid Panama hat. I also have had dogs for most of my life and dogs start out as puppies. You can already see where this is going can’t you?

One day at some stage I will take my Panama hat off and leave it within reach of a puppy’s interest by accident. The hat will become very secondhand quite quickly and need to be replaced. This happens every few years, about as often as I have a new puppy so it’s surprising I’ve not learned my lesson yet.

As a result of having to replace my Panama hat every few years I have come to learn the one thing almost all Panama hats have in common. They are made in Ecuador, not Panama. Panama hat manufacture is not Ecuador’s primary industry but it cannot be far down the list. Oil, banana’s and coffee seem to top the list of things they make money from. Having had a read of Ecuador’s history and current events I can conclude that not much happens in Ecuador. The sun rises and sets at 6am and pm every single day, apparently. Now they have a another profile in Ecuador though.

It seems Ecuador is the new dream destination of those who can’t keep a secret. A home for the internationally indiscreet.
   Still sitting in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has been since mid 2012 is Julian Assange. Young Julian the Australian former computer hacker and fan of airing Government laundry wants to move to Ecuador as he feels he may be compelled to pay the American judicial system a visit if he walks about in the street. Julian felt that he didn’t want to go to Sweden to answer some sexual assault allegations in case the Swedes extradited him to the USA. The Americans wish to ask him some questions about why he likes to publish all their secrets on his website. It appears they would very much like to put him in prison forever for being indiscreet.

The thing is you can also be extradited to the USA from the UK but Julian isn’t facing any charges there, he is in Sweden though. This makes a visit to Sweden very unattractive to him, given the questions he would have to answer but clearly does not wish to. He’s a huge fan of free speech is Julian but doesn’t wish to discuss allegations against him nor have his day in court to defend himself. Apparently this is because he doesn’t want to go to America. Of course it is. So he is going to move to Ecuador instead, as one does when one is wrongfully accused of something in Sweden.

Julian runs a website that people can ‘leak’ state secrets onto for consumption by the general public. Not many of the secrets are very interesting to anyone except those who might like to compile reasons for not liking people in authority having secrets. They are mostly things you might have assumed happened anyway but you saw them written down on a Governmental letterhead.

Julian is going to have a new friend if he ever gets to Ecuador. A chap called Edward Snowden who is now also very famous for being indiscreet. The crime he is accused of is revealing that the Government spies on its own people. Apparently we have all moved to some 1984 style surveillance state and the Government wishes to read our emails and listen to our phone calls. That sort of thing. Edward feels for some reason that his future also lies in Ecuador. I hope he finds the climate agreeable and the predictable sun rise and set to be comforting. Given the latest stuff that’s come to our attention away down here in the Antipodes, I don’t think he will be wanting to move to New Zealand. So Ecuador is still the preferred destination apparently.

Here’s the thing though. I don’t think it’s up to people like Julian or Edward to tell us what a democratic Government wishes to keep quiet about that goes on in the back reaches of a world few understand. I like to think that those we have elected to govern us, to keep us safe are best informed about how to do that. That will involve doing some things sometimes that we are best not made aware of. Sometimes it’s not in the best interests of those tasked with protecting us to have their secrets revealed where enemies can read them. Not everything has to be transparent. Not when it comes to our national or personal security.

Somewhat ironically, Julian and Edward are being accused of being spies among other things, by revealing spying secrets. Like spies do. Apparently they don’t see themselves as spies though. Quite the opposite, somehow.
 Far from the usual Eastern European setting, I always had this image of a spy reclining in a linen suit in some far flung exotic destination. At some seedy bar waiting for his contact to arrive. He’d have his Panama hat positioned just so on the table as a secret signal. At least Julian and Edward can look the part with an endless supply of Panama hats when they get very bored in Ecuador, as not much happens there. There is a large American Embassy though. I believe the Embassy staff also get bored; they might get a new secret project soon.

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Fencers

WesterlyI’m not a poet, I don’t write poetry, well hardly ever. It’s outside my comfort zone so I don’t go there, much.

However this is quite a cool little story about a poem, an Island in the Indian Ocean most have never heard of and my Dad. There is also a poem so stick around.

If you read my stuff you’ll know I’m very proud to be descended from the Pioneers who built a life in New Zealand by hand. My Father was originally a farmer when I was growing up but for a handful of reasons outside his control due to economic conditions in the 80’s in New Zealand he found himself as a hill country fencer. Putting up miles and miles of stock fencing in the back blocks of New Zealand. Wild remote country far from civilisation. I worked with him from time to time when I was younger. The work was back-breaking and I didn’t have to do it very often. He did it every working day from the age of about 40 until he died aged 70. People cannot imagine that life these days. Only those that are still doing it can and they have much machinery to do a lot of the stuff now that Dad was doing by hand.

So last year I thought I might write a poem about the people like my Dad, the fencers. Nobody has written about the fencers before that I am aware of. Maybe I just haven’t looked in the right places. I was on Twitter one day and started throwing a few lines of poetry together, about fencers as tweets. Each one was a single verse. By the time I had finished my brief poem I decided that I continue not to be a poet and it was no good, so I deleted the tweets. The poem gone for good, unseen but by the few who may have been watching at the time.

Someone who was watching at the time was Jean-Paul Audouy on the Island of Reunion, off the coast of Southern Africa in the Indian Ocean. A French expatriate. Jean-Paul liked my poem apparently and took a screen shot of the tweets as I was going along. He sent me a document he had created with my poem and some images of fencers he had found on the internet. I think that’s amazing. The effort he took to make my poem look like something meaningful. I decided maybe it wasn’t so bad after all, so I’ll put it on here.

The poem goes like this…

 

They worked up on boundary lines, in mud and rock and shale.

It’s rough up there, the wind is cold, it blows a bloody gale.

The fencing gear, the wire and posts, all carted in by hand.

The men were hardy, tough and strong, fencing off the land.

They cut all through the rough terrain, in Tea-tree scrub and gorse.

They kept on going, dawn till dusk, sticking to the course.

They camped out on the boundary line with billy, smokes and gun.

It sounds alright, a way of life but it’s no bloody fun.

With a bit of luck a chopper came to lay the fencing gear.

If the weather’s in the laying out could take a bloody year.

The climb was harsh the landscape rough, the boundary unforgiving.

The fencers though, ‘til the job is done would never bloody give in.

We sing about the pioneers, the men who cleared the land

The foresters, the farmers, blokes who built a life by hand

No-one recalls the fencers though, who worked the boundary lines.

The hardy men out on the hills when it rains and when it shines

They never had the luxury of the big homestead or fire.

They divided up our nation’s farms with battens, posts and wire…

Sandy, @seefromhere as told on Twitter, 1st June 2013

Distant snow

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

A list of things to do

You’ll have noticed I’m not putting much on here anymore. I’m not sure why not, but it may have something to do with the fact that I’m back home in New Zealand and busy doing things outside rather than inside. It’s still summer time here and the living, almost as the song suggests, is in fact, pretty easy.

I’ve been getting about a lot since I came home so have not been inclined to sit inside putting written things on the internet. I’ve been socialising, exploring and working. You know, seeing people, going places and doing things. No time for writing things down I’m afraid. Well until now of course.

All this going places and doing things makes one more aware of what’s around you. I certainly notice that since returning to New Zealand having been away for over 20 years, I appreciate the incredible surroundings much more than I did before I left. England is indeed a green and pleasant land, but the scenery in New Zealand knocks poor old Blighty into a cocked hat, to coin a phrase.

What this is about is to write down as much as for my own sake as anyone else’s, the things I might like to do if I was given the opportunity and the funds. I’m not a fan of the bucket list phrase for no particular reason, so it’s just my list of things to do.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have already done most of the things I wanted to do and been to the places I wanted to be, or see. So I don’t have a whole catalogue of things to put on a list, or at least didn’t when I started writing this down. Maybe they’ll come to me as I go. That’s part of the fun I think. I’ll start with the ones I already have on my list and let you know when I start making stuff up as it occurs to me.

What got me thinking about it is this #100happydays project that’s catching on a bit. Every day I put an image on Instagram of something that makes me happy that day. Unsurprisingly the idea is to spend a 100 days thinking of something that makes you happy every day. There is no point to it apart from the fact that it’s fun and makes you think of happy things at least once a day and that’s got to be a good thing. I put it on my Instagram and share it on Twitter. If you want to join in or have a look. My Instagram account is sandysviews and my twitter is @seefromhere.

Back to my list. I don’t want to do things that require great energy or personal risk. I get no enjoyment from that at all. I want to do and see things that are amazing but which often include peace and quiet, or sitting down.

Where shall I start? What do I want to do the most seems appropriate.

1) Visit Nova Scotia. It’s an ancestry thing, my Scottish Ancestors came to New Zealand via Nova Scotia. I think the best way to get there is fly to Boston and drive up. I want to get a house on the beach, with a rustic town nearby and do some wandering about in the wilderness.

2) Sit on the sun deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia. In case you are wondering why, have a look on a search engine. The Sun deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel is right beside the Victoria Falls. Imagine.royalliving_sod

3) Take a road trip around the lower South Island of New Zealand in the Autumn when the mountains will have the first dusting of new snow.

4) Walk the Abel Tasman National Park.

5) Take a Riva Aquarama for a spin somewhere fabulous in the Mediterranean. If you don’t know what a Riva is. It’s the Ferrari of boats. The world’s greatest, most stylish speedboat.

6) Continuing the nautical theme. I want to be watching in an otherwise quiet bay when a Jet-ski suffers an engine failure and the rider has to swim a long way to shore. The Jet-ski has to be the worlds most anti-social piece of machinery.

7) I want to drive an Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, on a racetrack, I’d drive it on the road but I want to go faster than that. So a racetrack, or that amazing road in Romania even.

8) I’d like to see something I’ve written published in a magazine, a lifestyle kind of one that people pay to read. I have had an article published in a very cool trade magazine you know? Also a number in the NZNewsUK newspaper in England, but I’m talking here about a consumer magazine sort of thing.

9) Finish my novel, have it published by a publisher rather than myself and see it made into a movie.

10) Spend a week at the Danube Delta. Look it up if you’ve not heard of it.

11) See a Kiwi in the wild

12) If I get married again, have the ceremony at Blanket Bay resort

13) Build a Cob House, for my home.

I’m making things up from here, can I get to twenty? Surely there are 20 amazing things I’d like to do. There are! These are the other things I knew I wanted to do but had parked somewhere in the back of my mind until now.

14) Take the Orient Express from Istanbul to Venice. I love a nice train ride and getting dressed up. This kills two birds with one stone.

15) Hear a Kokako in its natural habitat.

16) Take a river boat cruise on the Rhine

17) Try a glass of Romanée-Conti to see what all the fuss is about

18) To be able to afford to own a Land Rover Freelander2. It’s my dream car.

19) Visit a Pacific Atoll. One you can have a holiday on.

20) Drive across the USA, in a convertible Mustang.

21) Appreciate Art better, I just see pictures. I understand Art is important so I’d like to get a better appreciation for it.

That will do for now. It would appear there is a lot of stuff to do, I need to make more money, or perhaps less spending of the money I already earn might be easier.

22) Learn to save rather than spend.

See what I did there?

I should print this out and stick it on my wall. Perhaps get one of those Apps that helps you plan for goals and budget. Or I could just be wistful and dream about the things I’d like to do.

I’m in a place now where I am inclined to pursue the things that matter to me though. Life is for living, it’s simple but it’s true so you should do this too.

Make a list of the things you’d like to do and set about them, rather than making a bucket list when you are faced with your own mortality. Like in that movie, it’s too late then unless you are very rich indeed.

What’s on your list of things to do?

Categories: Inspiration, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Somewhere else

HouseThis is a tale that goes nowhere, what’s the point then you may wonder, why does there have to be one? I might respond. It’s kind of like an open discussion, designed to give pause for thought and reflection. I have the platform of this blog, the luxury of time and the inclination to ponder and that’s good enough for now so I’ll begin. It’s mostly about looking outside the borders you live within.

Is it about travel? Yes, sort of…but no.

Did you know that among all the awesome tunes on my iThing, over 4000 of them, the most eclectic mix of tunes you could imagine, the most played song has been played more than twice as much as the next? Yes it has. That song is the Green green grass of home by Tom Jones. OK, I know, I said eclectic.

I was watching the first Bourne film last night and there was a scene when he was at a train station somewhere in Europe. The station has those destination boards where the letters shuffle to form names of cities. They make a sort of tumbling Domino sound while they settle on a place the next train is heading for. I love those signs. They are way better than the new electronic ones, which lack the romance of the unfolding place name.

The Destinations were places like, Zurich, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Brussels and so on. It’s amazing where you can catch a train to in Europe. From London you can catch a train to Istanbul if the fancy takes you. Or you can take one to Vladivostok but you have to change in Paris.

The world is a very big but also a very small place now.  We can all see all of it on the Internet, which isn’t the same as seeing it in person though.

I know of many people who yearn to escape from New Zealand, you can’t take a train to anywhere from New Zealand but that’s probably not why they want to leave. The reason given for wishing to depart is usually one of claustrophobia at being so remote or removed from civilisation. As though the rest of the world is far more civilised than here. People look despondently at the insular nature of our nation. We are just about the most remote country in the world. It’s a very long way to anywhere. We are a young country in terms of habitation, the last inhabited or colonised country in the world by all accounts. Probably something to do with being so very far away from everywhere.

Many people here feel they need to go and see the rest of the world in person to make their lives richer. Go and see what the rest of the world does and looks like that is different to New Zealand. Many believe it will be much better living somewhere else, as they will be nearer to other things. I spent many years nearer to other things and I just wanted to come home.

If you have the wherewithal to go and see the world you must. If you haven’t or can’t, that’s ok too as it’s very nice here and you can see the world on the internet.

Here comes the discussion bit. People are different, they want different things. For my part, I would never go to any great effort and expense to stand in front of something large and historical, well except maybe that amazing place in Samarkand. Samarkand

I would not risk my life to sit in a canoe in a Jungle sweating in the humidity and being eaten by bugs. I would not queue for hours to stand in a gallery looking at old things on a wall or a plinth. I went to the Louvre once and walked off when I saw the queue. I walked around the outside instead.

I seem to have this unique ability to be underwhelmed by things. I walked through the Roman Forum once as it appeared to be the quickest way back to my hotel. I did notice an awful lot of broken stuff though. I like vistas, rather than architecture.  I like a nice view and luckily we have the best ones in New Zealand so I’m happy every day.

What is it about the chance of emigration though that makes people believe will change their lives for the better? If you go to a new large city, you are surrounded by people much like you, except the ones who live there are working unlike you as you visited while on holiday. So they go about their lives, commuting, paying taxes, having supper and shopping. You admire their surroundings for a bit as they are different to your own and you leave, thinking this might be an excellent place to live. Or you might like to live in the countryside full of odd things and strange people.

Out there in the world everyone is so keen to travel to and live in, everyone is getting from birth to death in the best way they know how, mostly expensively, just like you. They just do it somewhere else. What is it that makes the grass greener on the other side? People who travel to ‘find themselves’ somewhere else must simply be unhappy where they are. What is it you hope to find somewhere else that you think might make you happier?

Look at England for example. People in their millions from all over the world travel to England for a look at all the history, but very few people from Western countries would wish to live or retire there. The English on the other hand flee in their hundreds of thousands to live somewhere sunny like Spain or Australia.

People clamour for green cards to go and live in America, presumably because they like larger food helpings than they currently get at home.

Kiwi’s in their tens of thousands move to Australia, I’m guessing it’s because they like money and fire.

So many people looking to be somewhere other than the perfectly serviceable country they currently inhabit. So much desire for something other than what they have? Are so many so unhappy or so dissatisfied with their lot that they will risk everything just to be somewhere else?

I mean it’s understandable you might wish to move if your neighbours want to hack you to death for being the wrong tribe, or your children get shot in the face for going to school, or you worry about chemical weapons being used on you for wanting to vote. But if you  live in a democratic country with abundant food, democracy, clean air, freedom, wide open spaces, peace and the worlds best scenery with all the hobbits you can eat, what’s not to like?

I think it’s awesome if you can go and ply your lucrative trade somewhere you might get paid more money for it, but there is always a compromise. I struggle with understanding people who wish to make a home somewhere that isn’t their home. But I’m lucky, my home is here. I’ve always known that and it’s a great feeling of comfort to feel like I have a home, even if it’s a whole country rather than a particular part of it. The North of the North Island feels like home to me now. Maybe as I get older it’s because it’s where I started out.

What constitutes home? I’ve moved an awful lot and lived in a lot of places that didn’t feel at all like home. England never felt like home. Even though I owned a house there. I don’t own a house here but feel at home.

I guess all I’m saying is that if you long for an opportunity to leave somewhere you currently are and live somewhere else, remember it’s just somewhere else and maybe the grass isn’t necessarily greener, just a different shade of green. Everywhere else has it’s own crap stuff. Most likely more than where you are now.

You can always go and visit the other places, but chances are that if you decide to go and live there, you will always refer to where you came from as home. You will just be residing somewhere else, somewhere other than home. How is that better?

Happy travels. Make sure you have somewhere in your new home to hang your hat. Apparently that’s important.

Categories: General views, New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

On what’s next

Sunrise

6am. Sunrise

This isn’t so much of a blog post as an update. If you spend any time here you may be aware that I recently returned home to New Zealand after living in the UK for the best part of 23 years. I was asked by many people in the UK what I was going to do when I got  back to New Zealand. I told those people I was going home to live the dream, more on that in a moment.

Other people told me I would find New Zealand very hard to come to terms with after so long being anglicised. You know, after so long living in England. They felt I would find New Zealand all small and parochial, distant and insignificant perhaps. They were convinced the transition from an old house in a Surrey field with Europe just across the channel to little New Zealand at the bottom of the world would be trying and painful. I also have a bit to say about that shortly.

I’ll keep this pretty brief though as I only have a little bit to say.

I came home to live the dream, I also came home with nothing more than a few boxes of stuff. Stuff like clothes, books, a few bits and bobs and not very much money. That’s a long story but I arrived back in New Zealand with NZD $2,000 to my name.

The dream was to rebuild my life according to my own terms. The requirements were quite simple. Get a reasonably well paid day job I enjoyed and find somewhere to live near the sea where I could do some writing in my spare time. That’s it really.

There have been a few challenges along the way as I was trying to secure gainful employment outside my recent career history because I didn’t want to engage in that line of work anymore. Potential employers don’t necessarily fall over themselves to give opportunities to people making career changes later in their working life. You don’t usually get the chance to explain why regardless of how good your reasons are. But I stuck to my dream because I said a while ago that I was going to do what I am not just good at but best at, instead of doing what I can because I am able. If that makes sense?

So, what’s next? The update? I’m going to park the regular but infrequent blog writing for a while as it’s time to focus on my bigger projects. I mean really big projects.

Like these….

Firstly, I’ve finally secured a fantastic role as a business development manager which covers all of New Zealand. I’m not going to talk any more about that as I like to keep my work life quite separate from here but I’m very excited about the opportunities it presents and I know I’m going to be happy in ‘the day job’.

Secondly, I’ve been accepted by Massey University to do a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. I know!! I’m going to do this part-time over a number of years via distance learning. There is no time frame to complete my degree nor is it for a particular purpose. I just wanted to finish my education. I can’t quite believe I’m going to actually do it but there it is. Me as a University Student. Who’d have thought it?

Thirdly, I’m going to start to finish the book, my novel. I started it when I was in England and it’s been sitting around neglected. I needed to be in a place in my head where I felt I could complete it and I think I’m there now. The story is all mapped out, I just need to fill in the words. So any writing I’ll be doing from here will be for my degree or the book. I may have time for random ‘blogging’ as well but that’s not going to be much of a focus for a while. If you don’t know anything about the book. This is how it starts.

My book, the first chapter. About a giant eel

What’s the book about? I spent ages sitting here trying to think how to summarise it. I’m not sure I can. So you’ll have to wait until it’s finished to find out. The stuff here though? That’s just background, meeting the main characters, it cracks on a pace when it get’s going and probably ends in tears, good ones hopefully. No pressure then….

Standing at the edge of the lawn, iPhone photo

So what about living by the sea? Well, as it happens I’m really lucky to have been able to spend most of my time right on the waterfront in a beautiful place about an hour north of Auckland. So pretty much as near to the sea as it’s possible to get. I’ve yet to finalise my living arrangements because much of that was dependent on what sort of job I managed to secure. But for now? I’m by the sea and writing in my spare time. I look out across a large bay to distant islands every time I walk onto the lawn, the lawn ends at the sea’s edge. It must be one of the greatest views on earth.

View from the lawn, on a random evening.

View from the lawn, on a random evening. Taken with a 300mm zoom lens

To those who were convinced I would struggle with the transition? As we say in New Zealand, ‘yeah nah’. It’s awesome being home. I’m loving it here, every single day. It’s kind of like I never left, except I appreciate what we have here a lot more than I used to.

I’m going to leave you for a while now, I’ve got a book to write, a degree to do and a day job to focus on. I’ll do my best not to just sit and look at the view though.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot, Merry Christmas!

Pohutukawa. The New Zealand Christmas Tree

Pohutukawa. The New Zealand Christmas Tree

See you on the other side.

Categories: General views, Inspiration, New Zealand | Tags: , , , | 50 Comments

People are awesome!

Watching me

Watching me

Who knew we loved Lions so much? We knew we loved Polar bears of course, but now we really love Lions, we don’t love Melissa Bachman much even though she helped us realise how much we love Lions.

There was me thinking Lions just spent all their time lounging about beneath an African tree in between bouts of dining on antelopes and Zebra’s but now they are the new poster beasts for man’s (or woman’s in this case) inhumanity to animals.

It looks like the whole Internet is up in arms over a pretty girl who really, really likes to kill living things. I had a look at her website before she dismantled her online presence in the face of an international wave of condemnation on a scale formerly reserved for, for…no, she’s in a league of her own isn’t she? The thing about Melissa I found so repugnant was her absolute glee in the death of living things, zero empathy or respect for the newly ex-wildlife. But I’m bored with speaking about Ms Bachman now, as she is not what this is about.

There were the usual outbursts by the fans of shrubbery and fluffy animals about how the world would be a better place without humans in it. I take issue with that as people are AWESOME, or OARSUM, if you are from New Zealand.

Let’s look at the facts. People are better than animals. There, simple when you put it like that but I’m sure there are those among you who would want a more convincing argument.

I can start with our former favourites before we loved Lions so much. Dolphins and Polar Bears, Panda’s and Penguins. Not one of them has invented a cure for the Plague or walked on the moon. I love a Dolphin as much as the next human but I’ve yet to see them organize a fundraiser for Typhoon victims or fill Wembley Stadium for seven nights in a row. The Pinnacle of Dolphin achievement is making people smile and jumping really high out of the water. I’m not seeing the superiority there.

We change the cars we drive and how much we heat our houses with Polar bears as the point of reason. We mustn’t use our greenhouses too much or the Polar Bears will have to travel further to eat seals and if that happens our winters will be less severe. I like to see a Polar bear and it’s cubs on a nature program of course, but do I really have to drive an electric car to do so in the future? I hate electric cars.

People go all gooey over a Panda but what does it actually do apart from sleep, eat Bamboo and look like something we might like as a pet? I imagine they are delicious though and I bet there are at least a handful of Chinese people who can confirm that for me. In fact Panda’s are completely useless as a species but we love them so much we will travel across a whole country and pay a fortune to see a baby one, sleeping.

Enough about the animals who are less awesome than people. Animals are amazing of course, but people are awesome. The only animals in attendance when Batkid was saving San Francisco were dogs on leads. It was awesome people who gave that little boy the best day in his short life, he wouldn’t have got the same life changing day from stroking a Polar Bear although he certainly would have found it (briefly) more exciting but most likely not in a good way.

To the people who say the world would be a better place without people in it, I say, who would know?

A world without people would be a world without the best stories ever told, most likely with Rats and Cockroaches in charge.

People have changed people’s lives. Animals change the contents of a menu. People inspire other people to do the most incredibly awesome, arduous, heroic or even insane things. Animals make us go ‘awww’, (or ‘Arrrgh!’ If we meet a man eating one.)

People fly aeroplanes into forest fires; they risk their lives to help other people they don’t even know. They change the way they live and behave to make other people happy. A person can decide to devote their life to changing the world, an animals biggest decision is what to eat and when, or should they stay or should they go.

Watching people being awesome is really easy as well, you just sit in a chair in the high street or stand around in a group of them and observe. To see the proper animals rather than the ones you’ve domesticated or farmed for eating or clothes requires some considerable expense, discomfort and hardship to get to them. So mostly we see them on television, their antics recorded by David Attenborough for our amusement or amazement.

For the sake of fairness, Awesome doesn’t necessarily have to mean good of course, awesome can also just fill you with awe, but not in a good way. We also have people who are awesome for all the wrong reasons, but still no less awesome.

Awesome = adjective

1.

Inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear; causing or inducing awe: an awesome sight.

2.

Showing or characterized by reverence, admiration, or fear; exhibiting or marked by awe.

Look at people who make chemical weapons for a living. Imagine just for a moment how awesome those people are? They went to school, studied really diligently, and got a degree, a properly hard one, not media studies. They then applied to work in a lab to figure out how to kill everyone on Earth as painfully as imaginable. That’s Awesome when you think about it. That’s way more awesome than toothy Melissa with her bow and arrow.

People make you cry laughing by telling you a story, if you cry laughing at an animal, it’s most likely not getting on with it’s immediate environment and you are actually being a little bit cruel instead of helping it.

The most awesome feats achieved and performed by people have always and invariably been for other people,  awesome feats both good and bad. Whole countries have banded together in triumph and adversity, usually either of those are to do with things people have done, are doing, or are about to do and not because of the antics of a Penguin.

I love animals; I always have and always will. But I’m not all that keen to see people as a species eradicated to make a more pleasant environment for my dinner to roam freely.

No, it’s people who are awesome, while animals are amazing. The world would not be a better place without people. There would certainly be more animals, being amazing, but who would know and record it on film for my amusement or amazement?

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A word to the unwise

Prague

Prague

I spoke to someone the other day who is going for a big adventure overseas. Traveling they said. They’d not been far from home before and were having an epic adventure out in the world. Going to visit a few far-flung unfamiliar cities and see some things they’d never seen before. Experience foreign cultures and climates. It occurred to me quite quickly that they weren’t going traveling at all. They were going on holiday.

There is a difference. I’ve discussed it before in general terms but now because I am a helpful soul who has been lot’s of places I’m going to offer some advice and information to the uninitiated overseas venturer, which is different to an adventurer.  I’m not even sure venturer is actually a word at all but I like it and it works for this purpose.

People who are going to places further away than a shopping excursion might normally take them who are unfamiliar with how things work overseas tend to make the same mistakes. I’m reluctant to call them mistakes as people will do things for different reasons, but to me they are mistakes. Let me walk you through what I mean.

Let’s say you are going for a trip to a few European cities from here in the Antipodes for example. We aren’t unique in this but I’m here now so that’s where my focus is. Back to your trip. You will buy things you would not normally buy if you weren’t going overseas won’t you? Things like money belts, Cargo pants, bum packs, robust unattractive items of distance walking footwear that resemble corrective shoes. A safari type hat with a strap that goes under your chin. You plan to wear these items to make your wandering around a European city more…what exactly? Let me tell you what, you are making it more risky, that’s what.

You see, you are wearing items of clothing you would not wear if you were visiting your nearest town or city at home, why? Do you think you might suddenly find yourself morphing from city street to mountain pass without the chance to change your attire? Do you plan on carrying so much money you need something other than your wallet or purse to transport it about? Why are you going to carry it in something you wear outside your clothing or inside your shirt? To make it safer? Seriously?

What you are actually doing is effectively shouting the following.

“I am a naive foreigner who has never been abroad before. I am carrying a lot of money and travel documentation about my person and I have no idea what to do if you try to rob me”

It’s not a good message to convey to the small army of pickpockets and charlatans who look for people dressed exactly as you are while you linger curiously about the major landmarks, too busy looking up to notice the deft fingers rummaging in your personal effects.

What you do instead is by some nice, comfortable but attractive shoes. Wear normal clothes that do not signal you are one of the millions of the unaware and gullible and carry the items you would normally carry your money and personal effects in, you know, a wallet and a handbag, like you would at home. Chaps should carry their wallet in the front pocket of their trousers rather than the more accessible rear as a nod to the greater risk of pickpockets. Ladies should carry a shoulder bag you can zip shut, the shoulder bag is carried with your arm clamped firmly over it against your side. Simple stuff. You do not need to walk about with your passports and tickets unless you are crossing borders or leaving town.

Perigueux

Perigueux

When you are in far flung cities, many of the guidebooks will be full of information about museums and art galleries. I have no idea why. Are you an art buff or a historian? Most likely not. I’ll let you in on a little secret. All museums and art galleries all over the world have the same stuff in them. Old things and art. Inside looking at old things and art is not the best way to spend your limited time in a city you will most likely never visit again. Of course I’m not suggesting don’t do any of them, I’m not a Philistine, you just don’t need to do all of them. Because each and every one is full of old things and art, much the same as the last one, and the one before that.

Spend your time outside, looking at the unique beautiful architecture, the cool and different people from another culture. Eat, drink, the local stuff. Sit and watch, observe the lifestyles. Watch the tourists scurrying from one attraction to the next to see local variation of the same thing they saw in the previous city. Poke about in the shops. Walk along the river, they all have rivers. Go to the markets and buy some silly thing you don’t need as a souvenir.

Get up high and look across the city; listen to the noise that the city makes. Stop and listen. It’s amazing.

While you are seeing and hearing all the amazing things, you’ll want to take some photos of course. You’ll most likely do that with your phone as everyone seems to now. When you take your phone out to take photos, the same phone you will want to use in an emergency, remember that it s worth about $500. You wouldn’t wave $500 or Euros around in the air with one hand would you? No, so hold your phone close to you, with two hands. Always look around you before you start snapping away. If you are messaging friends back home to make them jealous of your new sights and sounds, hold the phone close with two hands, not at arms length texting with your thumb. You would be amazed how far away your phone can get in a few seconds in the hands of a thief you hadn’t spotted. Treat your phone like the expensive valuable item it is.

So, by all means go traveling and call it that, take a limited number of items you have to carry vast distances. Go and see the world on a shoestring. It’s a very cool thing to do. You’ll become very international savvy and street smart very quickly. You’ll remember the things you do and see for the rest of your life.

If you are overseas on holiday though, dress for the location. Don’t walk the streets of Paris looking like you’ve teleported in from a Namibian game reserve and vice versa. Big international cities work the same way as your local town.

People go to work, they go shopping, they dress in normal clothes; you won’t see any of them wearing a bum pack or what look like corrective shoes unless they need corrective shoes. You shouldn’t either. Look the part, blend in, and be safe. Relax and enjoy yourself.

Chartes dude

Chartes dude

Bon Voyage.

Categories: Beginners guides, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

The nature of New Zealanders

Tolaga Bay wharf

Tolaga Bay wharf

Time for a little break from compiling the fund raising book of the amazing comments in support of Team New Zealand. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look over there to the right of this post. There’s one called ‘here’s an idea’. You’ll want to read that as well.

I’m going to also put some images of the incredible New Zealand scenery among the comments. Silly not to really, it’s not like I’m short of them, all you have to is go outside and point a camera in one direction or another.

New Zealand is the most beautiful country on earth. Everybody knows that, everybody knows about the incredible ‘nature’ in New Zealand.

I’m going to talk about the nature of New Zealanders for a while instead.

I posted a tweet a while ago that was the most re-tweeted thing I’ve put on that particular platform. It seemed innocuous enough at the time, but it struck a chord. People most associate us with ‘G’day’, or ‘no worries’ or ‘she’ll be right’. All of these are common parlance but we have a new word now. It’s the most used word I’ve heard since returning to New Zealand from England, it was a close call between this particular word and aioli which is the next most common word in New Zealand. I’d never seen the stuff anywhere in England, but in New Zealand, try getting through a day without hearing about it. Good luck.

The tweet went as follows

‘If you are visiting New Zealand, it’s worth knowing that the word for thank you is ‘Awesome’. It’s also the word for yes please’

Awesome, we pronounce it oarsum, is ubiquitous. Everything is oarsum. Even an order of a cup of coffee is greeted with oarsum. Did you know we have more cafe’s per capita in Wellington than anywhere else in the world? New Zealanders run on coffee it seems.  We all know our flat whites from our mochachino’s and latte’s. The Barista is a highly respected trade in our little country, like the cool cocktail barman of the 80’s.

When I was in the UK, returning holiday makers from NZ would comment to me on the incredible beauty of the country quickly followed by a remark on the friendliness of the New Zealanders. Let me tell you what that looks like now that I’ve driven from one end of the country to the other and back since I’ve returned. I went for a bit of a road trip to have a look around. You know the most common greeting when you walk into a shop here?

“Hey, how’s it going?’

It’s not a throw away line either, they really want to know. You as the customer greet the friendly shop person with the equally truthful “oarsum thanks”. Oarsum can also be a usual response to an enquiry after your general wellbeing, which is worded, “hey how are ya?” If you are more circumspect by nature and not actually oarsum, your response to “hey how’s it going”, or “hey how are ya?” Will be ‘Aw yeah, no worries’.

Once you’ve engaged the shop person in general chat about the weather, where you’ve come from, and the latest bit of significant news of the day, you’ll be asked if you require any assistance in making some sort of a purchase, this will be worded along the lines of ‘“so do you need a hand with anything?” to which you will reply with either a polite negative as you are fine and just looking or an affirmative that you would in fact appreciate some assistance. In New Zealand, the phrase for no is “aww yeah, nah” and we already know that yes please is “oarsum’.

Another phrase you will hear a lot in New Zealand is “no, really, it’s no trouble at all” as the next stage of something you’ve suddenly discovered you need help with. The help is usually offered before you’ve asked for it, nor even thought you might. The “no really, it’s no trouble at all” will be in response to your perfectly normal and expressed desire not to put anyone to any trouble with your particular issue and you’ve demurred when offered the help.

Kiwi’s are very helpful you see. We help each other, a lot. Convivial, and helpful by nature. When you are at the far end of the world you tend to need to pitch in together and if someone has made all that effort to come and visit us on their holidays, well they’ll need more help as they are far from home. They are at our home and will be made to feel welcome. We want to make sure they enjoy themselves at our place. The scenery will take care of itself, the people you meet along the way make the journey between the scenery that much more oarsum.

Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana

We New Zealanders are rightly very proud of our country but we aren’t by nature a demonstrative bunch. We as a people tend to be understated, not hard wired to great shows of patriotism from birth like the Americans or Aussies. We don’t tend to hang flags out of our home or car windows or tearfully clutch a hand to our chest when we hear the national anthem. But when our countryfolk achieve great things out in the world? Then we’ll let you know all about it. We’ll take on the ‘Team New Zealand’ mantle. We support our people wearing a silver fern taking on the world.

The rest of the time we quietly go about our lives on our little cluster of islands deep in the South Pacific, but punching way above our collective weight on the world stage. We are a nationally curious mix of dry humour and creativity. Adventurous and industrious with a good dose of old fashioned common sense. Our countrymen and women have achieved incredible things out in the world, from sport, across science, politics, culture, the arts and environmentalism. You’ll see and hear of New Zealanders everywhere you look. We are a nation of just four and a half million. There are currently 45 cities in the world with a population greater than our entire country.

We know we are at the far end of anywhere living a precarious existence in the most volatile geographic region on earth. Did you know that two of the three most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions of the last 500,000 years were in New Zealand? I don’t mean little puffs like Mt St Helens or Mt Pinatubo. I mean blasts not far short of extinction events. Yes. that big. Look!

supervolcanoes

Volcanoes across Lake Taupo

Volcanoes across Lake Taupo

We have breathtaking natural beauty, like nowhere else. We have more climatic regions in New Zealand than anywhere else. We live in a place of extraordinary geography and geology, flora and fauna but what you will notice time and time again, as you drive from one oarsum landscape to the next is the warmth of the New Zealanders. Just don’t expect too much conversation if there are some of our countrymen taking on the world wearing a silver fern on their sports equipment at the time. Oh we’ll still help you of course, but you’ll have to understand what it means to be a part of ‘Team New Zealand’. You’ll most likely want to become part of it too. That’s what makes this country special.

It’s not just about the view. The Nature of New Zealand is unique of course, but so is the nature of the New Zealander, it’s a way of life here.

If you are contemplating or planning a visit, it’ll be oarsum to see you.

Categories: General views, New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Thank you

This is a heartfelt thank you to all of you all around the world who have followed, forwarded, re-tweeted, shared and said such amazing things on my previous post; An Open letter to Emirates Team New Zealand, from Team New Zealand. It was an absolute honour and frankly a bit of a shock to see it go so far so fast. Just look at the statistics for the past 24 hours. Incredible

24 hoursThank you for following my blog. Welcome to  Sandysviews. I hope you enjoy what you read and see here.


By country

Categories: General views, New Zealand, Raves | Tags: , , , | 45 Comments

Our name is still on the boat!

IMG_0596Well that was pretty devastating. You know what I’m talking about. If you are a kiwi you do. So many New Zealanders got up, stayed in, stayed home, didn’t get to where they should have been and if they got there, they weren’t paying attention to work or school. They, we, were watching Emirates Team New Zealand busting a gut to realise their and our dream of winning one of the worlds great sports trophies. The America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in world sport. Think I’m making that up? Look it up.

We took it to the last race. Little New Zealand took one of the richest men in the world and his ‘hired guns’ to the wire. The very last race in the America’s Cup Regatta. We nearly won it. We didn’t though and that’s all our crew will be thinking about. Think of them now.

This is where we New Zealander’s come into our own. We will welcome them home. We will line the streets and we’ll cheer them from every part of the country.  We love to see our people out there competing on the world stage. Let’s remind them of that when they get back.

Our crew on our boat, Emirates Team New Zealand will be welcomed home as heroes as that’s what they are. They made us proud.

Thank you so much for forwarding my letter to them. It was amazing to see the support of the crew and your messages got to them. That’s pretty cool. We willed our team on, personally.

Welcome them home now. Let’s give New Zealand’s boat crew the heroes welcome they deserve. Remember, we are Team New Zealand and our name is on the boat.

Lola and Gizzy

Lola and Gizzy watched every race!
Image courtesy of Laura Tait Photography

Categories: General views | Tags: , , , , , , | 35 Comments

An open letter to Emirates Team New Zealand, from Team New Zealand

Manukau Heads lighthouse

Manukau Heads lighthouse

G’day Deano and the crew.

This is from us back home. You’ll be having some strategy meeting. Knocking around a few ideas. Hell, you might even be asleep. Us at home? We’re doing that too. You’ll have your eye on the big picture, the San Francisco bay weather, the clouds, the rules, what the Americans (or is it Aussies?) are doing to their boat over night. Probably giving the big outboard motor a polish, if the last few days are anything to go by.

We don’t know about any of that stuff. We know bugger all about sailing. I don’t mean that lot by the sea up North with their flash boats sitting around the yacht club yelling at the television in some nautical language we don’t speak, they know about sailing. I mean us. The rest of us out in New Zealand.

We are getting up every morning to watch you and the boys taking on the Billionaire at a sport none of us know about. We want you to win it for us. You’ve got New Zealand written on the boat. That’s our boat. We are Team New Zealand.

We should be going to work or school, some of us are and taking a radio or even a TV along. Most of us though, are at home or by a TV somewhere, anywhere, watching you and the boys racing up and down San Francisco bay after a little yachting cup with someone else’s name on it. We don’t know what a jibe or a tack is. Well we didn’t but we do now. We don’t know what a lay line is or why some of you keep running back and forth across the boat. We have no idea how it goes so fast into the wind or why it looks like a space ship on water. How it doesn’t even seem to float in the water, but skims on those ‘foils’. We just know it has New Zealand written on it and that’s who we are.

We are out there in places often nowhere near the water watching every race. We aren’t sailors, most of us have never been on a yacht. We run coffee shops in Tirau. We drive trucks in Te Kuiti. We are sitting on a quad bike on the side of a hill near Hunterville with the commentary on an old transistor radio. We teach kids in Palmerston North, or we would if they weren’t at home watching the America’s Cup. We are talking about the days races (or not) with people we don’t know in the pub after work in Westport. We compare our new expert opinions on yacht racing with strangers on a commuter train from Tawa. Outside New Zealand we are in Edinburgh, Munich, London, LA, and Lima. Doha, Goondiwindi, Cairo and Helsinki, wherever we are, we’ve found a way of watching. We are even on the waterfront in San Francisco. We made a special trip. We are Team New Zealand and our name is on the boat.

This is what we do you see. We get behind our people in black taking on the world. All of us. We become experts in things we knew nothing about. OK, we need the television to put graphics all over the screen so we know what’s going on. We listen to the commentators telling us things as though we were all sailors. We aren’t though so we don’t know what they are talking about. What we know now is that you have to win the start and you have to win the finish. The stuff in between? No idea mate. But we are Team New Zealand and our name is on the boat. You do the sailing, we’ll be willing you to win, that’s our job, all of us. No other country does this like we do. This is who we are. This is why we win. When you take on Team New Zealand, you take on the whole country. We’re watching Deano, all of us.

We are Team New Zealand and our name is on the boat. Let’s write it on our cup and stick it on the mantelpiece.

Just one more to win Deano, see you soon mate. Bring the cup home.

 

 

Categories: New Zealand, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 517 Comments

Some enlightenment

 

flux-capacitorI’m not what you would call a Sci-fi buff, I’m pretty sure I’ve never read a science fiction book but I do like the odd science fiction movie from time to time. Not just any old one though only the big ones. Things like Star Wars, The Matrix, Star Trek, the Aliens films and that one about Salmon Fishing in the middle east with Kristen Scott-Thomas. One theme that runs through the biggest and most successful science fiction films is the human ability to mess about in the far galaxies traveling faster than the speed of light fighting space aliens with ray guns. Clearly this is something people would like to be able to do and the reason these films are called ‘science fiction’ as opposed to documentary features is that as yet we have been unable to master firing a rocket ship full of live people to the far end of the universe.

I believe we could have been doing it by now, but our technological advancement was hamstrung for about a thousand years, right when we should have been starting some basic work on flux capacitors or at least the rudiments of understanding how lighting small fires near highly explosive gases could one day power an engine. We didn’t though. We as a species had other pressing issues to focus upon. Our primary concern was not burning in the fires of hell or being nailed upside down to a tree for doubting the opinions of powerful people in sackcloth or expensive robes who were seen carrying funny symbols from ancient folk stories.

You see it all started terribly promisingly, our quest for surfing the galaxies by, say, 1765. The Ancient Persians were incredibly advanced as a civilisation, making pretty things out of natural resources and fashioning trinkets and gadgets from gold or precious metals. Building vast cities and being the cradle of scientific development while Europeans were still having wrestling matches over raw meat while dressed in animal skins. The Ancient Egyptians, we all know what they did, building great pyramids aimed at the sky. The Aztecs, we’re pretty sure they were actually inviting space men down for tea and human sacrifice, while also building incredible temples, now fallen into ruin. The Romans, the ancient Greeks, all of them swiftly creating science, discovering new theorems and inventing calendars, and putting long complicated names to unusual but useful things. But around 500-600 or so AD. All this cleverness, creativity and science ground to a bit of a halt, very little was achieved of any significance for the next 1000 years apart from making new weapons.

What happened was the middle ages, also known as the dark ages. Organized Religion turned up. Oh religion had always been around in some minor form or other, but it was a largely pagan thing, some paranoid people praying to various gods or making sacrifices to the sun to make sure the maize grew properly next year. That sort of thing. Putting stones up in a field in a specific order or being nice to trees. None of it really had any impact on people not actually joining in with each others personal dalliance with their god of choice. We know now there was of course some well recorded genocide and butchery in the name of various deities in the middle east, but largely confined to a small region and nobody had much concern for this outside the tribal areas largely covered in sand.

Somehow though, thanks to an apparently charismatic carpenter and some impressionable  people in dusty towns beside the Mediterranean sea, we had a creator of the universe story catching on like wildfire. People liked a good story well told in those days and had a tendency towards blind acceptance of a convincing narrative. Books were in short supply you see.

Nobody is really sure how it caught on but I point the finger at Roman Emperor Constantine for allowing this folk story of a creator of the universe to become the preferred religion of the major super power at the time. If you are unfamiliar with the Constantine story you may like to research it yourself, it’s a good one.

Constantine

It seemed to work better for him than praying for personal immortality or just success in battle to wooden figurines being set on fire in a ceramic bowl maybe.

To cut a long story short, power is nothing if you don’t wield it and given the popularity among the new ruling elite of this new religion Catholicism, they called it eventually. New powerful ways of controlling the populace had been presented to those who needed to control them.

The unfortunate souls, literally apparently, who aren’t in charge of anything, you know, serfdom, slaves, minions, soldiers, farmers, metal workers, thinkers, lepers and the like have to behave themselves of course. Revolution of the masses was still frowned upon by those most likely to be revolted against.

People who weren’t part of the ruling establishment but subjects of it had new motivations for appropriate behaviour to get to grips with.  After all in those days subjugation of subjects was more popular with those in charge than democracy, which hadn’t been invented yet. The motivations for correct thought and behaviour where no longer just the business end of a whip, thumbscrews, iron maidens or being nailed upside down to a tree, but eternal damnation in the fires of hell by the creator of the universe. That’s a scary concept for a simple uneducated mind to grasp.

What happened next were a series of inquisitions, you’ve heard of the inquisition of course, Monty Python made quite some mileage out of the ‘Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition’ gag. It’s worth noting that they were incorrect technically as everybody expected the inquisition. The inquisition made appointments to see you.

So for several hundred, almost a thousand years of humanity from 500-600 to 1650 or so AD. Being creative, scientific, or inventive, the things you needed to start with if you are to design a flux capacitor or a warp drive had an alternative name, heresy. Heretics fared badly in the middle ages. Usually a fate worse than a fate worse than death to quote Blackadder. Ask Galileo how his incredible science and invention worked out for him, or read about him instead. You know who he is, widely being credited as being the ‘father of science’. He was imprisoned for life for heresy by our friends from the inquisition. This was probably discouraging for other potential fathers of science in the vicinity.

Here, look Galileo

Still none of this is terribly cheerful and around 1650 the best period in all of history arrived called ‘The Enlightenment’. This basically was a period when creativity, reason and independent thought finally challenged superstition and intolerance.

The Enlightenment

Clever people started to openly discuss the manner of life, the universe and all sorts of things The general consensus was that oppressive religious intolerance was not really helping anyone. You can do your own further reading now as part of the progression from ‘The Enlightenment’ was the industrial revolution which gave us an internet and smart phones to enable us to look up all the information about everything in the world

If they had started this process back in 650 rather than 1650 we would certainly be making phone calls back home from our front seat on a starship heading to another galaxy on holiday. I don’t think that’s all that far-fetched. Certainly not science fiction. Who knows. Maybe that creator of the universe likes it’s peace and quiet in a galaxy far far away and just doesn’t want people turning up asking awkward questions, you know, doesn’t want an unexpected inquisition.

Categories: Beginners guides, General views | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Going for a drive

Lake KarapiroI’ve been back in New Zealand for just over a month now. For three weeks of that month I went for a bit of a drive, just to have a look around, as one does. I drove about 3,500 Kilometres or 2,100 miles in old money. I didn’t see all that many other road users, not by international standards anyway. I’ll tell you a bit more about that later.

You know what I’m finding hardest to get through my head back home in NZ after having been living in England for so long? Don’t take this the wrong way my wonderful countrymen but I’m still struggling to think of New Zealand as a whole proper country rather than an island nation where you might go to on holiday. Yes I know it’s two islands, well three, OK, lot’s of little islands dotted about but only two proper islands. Although I’m sure the hardy souls of Stewart Island will insist they are a proper island as well. But New Zealand just feels little, small, intimate, friendly and like an island rather than a nation. Maybe it’s something to do with the closeness of the sea in every direction you look. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing at all, just an observation.

New Zealand is a vibrant dynamic country covered in beautiful scenery which you largely have to yourself when you get out of Auckland. I felt a road trip to reconnect with the country might be in order, so I drove south. When I say I, I mean we, my co-driver Anna was in the passenger seat. Anna had self-proclaimed to be the world’s worst passenger. Hates being driven I was told, by her. She hadn’t been in a car with me yet. Let’s see how that turns out.

The Auckland Motorway narrows to a dual carriageway when you are about 15 minutes south of the city centre, the dual carriageway turns into a regular road with a just a white line down the middle about three quarters of an hour beyond that. The road is still New Zealand’s main thoroughfare called State Highway One (SH1). This main road called SH1 goes all the way to Wellington where you catch a boat for nearly 4 hours to get back on it again to continue down the South Island. We’re still just south of Auckland though, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The thing about this regular road with a white line down the middle is that it’s mostly quite  wide but with some frighteningly and surprisingly narrow bridges here and there and oddly intermittent signage. There are also either a reassuringly or disappointingly large number of police patrol cars depending on how  you feel about the speed limits and road safety in general. The speed limit is 100 km/h and almost everyone sticks to it religiously, as I gather everyone in New Zealand has been caught speeding at least once, because there are so many police cars.

I mentioned the signage briefly, let me elaborate. New Zealand has signs beside the road advising you of things in the near distance you might like to look at. Be it some scenery of particular note or a memorial or something of historical significance. It would appear though that once you’ve been made aware of its existence, the actual location of the thing you might like to see is now up to you to find. You have a general direction to work with from the sign you spotted but that’s about it. They also like to put a sign on the outskirts of a town advising you of a speed limit, the signs and limits can vary a bit though. It might be 50, 60, 70 or 80 km/h depending on the town and which bit of it you are in. You are never quite sure which though and the very few signs advising you accordingly may have been missed while you were chatting to your co-driver who was probably pointing out other things you might like to look at. The government people in charge of road signs in New Zealand have not been wasting the Kiwis hard-earned tax dollars on excessive signage.

That said, the road signs are the least attractive part of the stuff you can see out of the window anyway. Luckily I had taken both my camera and my mobile communication device equipped with image capturing facilities to record some of the stuff I could see out of the window or from where I was standing when I chose to leave the vehicle for the purposes of image capturing.

I captured this image for example by standing in the middle of SH1 risking being run over by all the traffic. SH1

The road trip was something of a revisiting of my early years and something of  voyage of discovery for both of us. Anna was largely raised in the South Island while I spent all of my life in New Zealand in the North Island. In between the two islands is a body of water called Cook Strait. We took a voyage of discovery across it. Our discovery voyage was on the first ferry to leave Wellington after Cook Strait crossings had been cancelled due to storms. We discovered how big the sea can get in Cook Strait and just how very sick a big angry sea after a storm can make people feel.

Firstly, do you know how big a Cook Strait ferry is? No? Let me tell you about our one in particular, the Arahura. The Arahura weighs 13,600 Tonnes and can carry 125 cars and 12 trucks. It’s 150 metres long and has 9 decks. So it’s a pretty large ship. Anna and I were in the lounge on the 8th deck. The 8th deck is quite a long way above sea level. The sea level proved to be something of a moveable feast once we were out in the middle of Cook Strait.

Tory ChannelI don’t know about you but I’ve not seen ocean waves crashing over the front windows of the 8th deck of a large ship before. I do know that this phenomenon can cause people who came unequipped with ‘sea legs’ to vigorously dispense with any meals they may have consumed earlier in the day. Luckily for me I had packed my sea legs as had Anna and we got to get maximum value from our $20 pie and coffee combination if value as a term is used loosely. The 8th deck floor resembled something from a casualty room by the time we crossed through the Tory Channel into the far calmer waters of the Marlborough Sounds at dusk. The transformation from giant angry sea to calm water was total and quite sudden. Marlborough Sounds

Once we had made landfall in Picton we drove during the night to the Blenheim district. Awoke to a frosty clear day looking at vineyards and snow-capped mountains in the distance.

From Blenheim we drove down SH1 via Kaikoura to Christchurch. Time was against us though and rather than making a whistle-stop tour of the great sights of Central Otago and Southland we decided to make a special trip later when we could do it justice. This isn’t the sort of place you can see in a hurry.

We had to head back North via the Lewis Pass and Nelson. The sights on the South Island trip don’t really need any help with my descriptions so I’ll post a few of the images I captured along the way.  This isn’t landscape photography, these are just snaps from the road side or a ferry ride on a drive about New Zealand. I hope you enjoy them. Oh, and for the record, Anna says I am a totally awesome driver, just don’t ask her about my ability to tell left from right or follow directions.

Categories: General views, New Zealand, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The trip home

A380The 2nd of July 2013. 8:30 am on the 2nd of July, my dear friend Dawn, my colleague, the person who does what used to be my day job in another part of England dropped me off at London Heathrow Airport. Terminal 3 to be precise. Terminal 3 is for flights to and from what might be considered more ‘exotic’ destinations. It’s like a little corner of the United Nations in West London. I didn’t have to achieve much really, just get my dramatically overweight bags past check in without them asking me to jettison anything or charge me handsomely for weighing to much. They did neither. Result!

Then I had to negotiate the security bit without having any of my excessive technology items attract any tedious extra attention. I almost did but an item of liquid had come adrift from it’s little plastic bag in my cabin luggage and now they wanted to do a full search of my bag to examine the offending item. No problem. Almost.

Do you know what powerboat engineers who don’t travel much and have even less common sense carry in their hand luggage? I do, I didn’t, but I do now. They carry a couple of briefcases of assorted equipment, wires, batteries, cutters, screwdrivers and gun shaped objects that look exactly like the the sort of thing a terrorist bomb maker would like to have in his hand luggage if he was allowed to carry anything he liked on to an aeroplane.

The Powerboat engineer was in front of me in the queue at security. His bag was being checked before mine. I’d arrived at the airport 3 hours early as is customary for long haul flights. I spent a rewarding hour watching security people examine minutely every single item of equipment in our engineer friends luggage. He explaining in detail what every single piece of equipment was for.  Do you know he didn’t even apologise for being an idiot as he walked off when they finally let him go? I found that quite disappointing as I wanted to reassure him that he was indeed very, very stupid.

No matter though, I had a plane to catch to the far end of the world. A Singapore Airlines flight to Auckland. Yes I know, I’ve always been something of an evangelist for Air New Zealand but they wanted a whole third more of the price of the ticket than Singapore Airlines did. Plus Singapore Airlines gets you to New Zealand quicker.

I waited to board my giant Airbus. The A380, the worlds largest passenger airplane. I was very excited. I’d spent ages choosing the best seat on the plane for my economy class ticket. This translated into an aisle seat, in the middle section just a couple of rows back from the emergency exit. I get to be first off at the other end, only one person to climb over me during the 12 hour flight. Perfect, well as perfect as one can manage in the cheap seats.

I boarded my plane, I noted the Singapore Airlines cabin crew recruitment policy must be somewhat rigid in the physical appearance category given the extraordinary beauty of every single one of the female crew. I located my perfect seat after 3 steps, sat down, settled myself, had an empty seat beside me and hoped. He arrived a few moments later, grinning and pointing at the empty seat. I came to refer to him in my own mind as ‘the fat, chatty, drunken Norwegian with giant testicles’.

I stood to let him in to his seat. He sat down and made himself comfortable by having his knees facing opposite sides of the aeroplane. I addressed him as courteously as I could manage, with something along the lines of. “Would you mind closing your legs a bit, they are very wide apart and you are encroaching into my seat space”. He smiled and nodded and closed his legs not one jot. I made an elaborate gesture of retaining my leg space by putting my thigh at the outer extent of my own seat space and he appeared to enjoy using my outer knee as a resting spot for his own. He smiled broadly at me, reached to shake my hand and introduced himself as Kuntz. I’m pretty sure that’s what he said. It worked for me anyway as a name for my new Norwegian neighbour.

He started to talk. He talked about cars, motorbikes, engines, engine statistics, about his job as a computer engineer in the Philippines. I just looked at him and started to realise how very far it is from London to Singapore.

After a few hours the beautiful cabin crew bought some food which he thankfully started filling his mouth with instead of words. I took my window of opportunity to put on my very expensive noise cancelling headphones. This appeared to be some sort of challenge to him though. He now had to tap me on the shoulder to get me to lift one of my headphones to hear his next snippet of wisdom about historic motorcycles. He started to get the hint when I replaced the headphone before he had finished his very important revelation about old Motorbikes and Norway in the Winter. He ordered a drink.

Now Kuntz the Norwegian had no media to consume, no book, no magazine, he watched no television, nor films. He sat beside me, with what appeared to be the worlds largest testicles preventing him from sitting any other way apart from having his legs at right angles to each other. Using my outer knee as a resting place for his own. I feigned sleep, he drank. He drank solidly and consistently from one glass of cognac to the next for the ensuing nine hours of the journey. The Cabin Crew shuttled back and forth throughout the night bringing him cognac, which had to arrive at his table via close proximity to my nose obviously. I like Cognac, I really do but it may be a while before I shake off that smell of alcohol seeping from the pores of a fat drunken chatty Norwegian. He stopped at breakfast time though. He had a beer with his breakfast. We were a couple of hours from Singapore. I had another plane to catch to Auckland, he was going somewhere else, I was very, very grateful.

He shook my hand and wished me well. I wished him gone but I just said “good luck Kuntz”.

I had approximately 20 minutes to compose myself after getting off my giant Airbus and transiting Changi Airport once I’d found my new gate for the Auckland flight. This must be the shortest international transit ever!

I had gone to equal lengths as the first leg to choose my perfect economy seat. Aisle seat, near the exit in the 3 seats abreast bit in the middle section. Nobody would be climbing over me on the 10 hour run into New Zealand. I was feeling remarkably fresh. I located my seat and found myself sitting next to two very nice women from New Zealand. A mother and daughter who had been in England and were returning home. They knew my mother, I know!

The last leg was smooth and uneventful. I plugged my iThing into my ears and left it there for about 8 hours. I had a huge selection of music playing to soothe my last hours of the long journey to New Zealand. I was nearly home.

I arrived at Auckland International Airport at 22.45 pm Wednesday 03 July 2013. It was mid winter and I was wearing a t-shirt. Auckland was dark, drizzly and mild. I was collected at the Airport and ferried across the city. I looked out the window through the dark and looked at all the ‘New Zealandness’ around me. It looked like home. It feels like home. I made it. I’m home and it’s wonderful. It’s good to be back.

Categories: New Zealand, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The wrong place

Empty road

This is the continuation, the next stage of what started as the giant eel story which is the opening of my novel. (There is no mention of eels in the rest of my novel. Actually yes there is, right at the end).

If you missed that story, it’s here. You should read it first. Click this link just here.

About a giant eel

So, after that story, what follows is setting the scene for what happens next to Guy. This doesn’t give much away about what happens in the rest of the book, it’s still just the very start. I’ll be finishing the novel over the next year or so back in New Zealand as I need the ‘New Zealandness’ around me to complete it. This is Guy’s first day at boarding school.

The next time I post anything about my novel will be to announce it’s completion. Regular random topic blog service will be resumed when I get back to New Zealand but I hope you enjoy this next bit of the story.

So…Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin….

That summer was the last time they spent any meaningful time together as boys. They had to go off and grow up. That’s the problem with being boys, young mates, sooner or later you have to start becoming young men.

The bloke who owned the farm that Guys dad managed had sold it. Guy didn’t know that as it wasn’t the sort of conversation dads had with their sons, or maybe it is but it certainly wasn’t one Guys dad was going to have with him. All Guy knew was one day he was told they were moving nearer town. Guy’s mum didn’t think much of the local high school and part of the deal for Guys dad on the new farm was having boarding school fees thrown in for the kids. So Guy and his family were moving to a new farm and from there he would be joining his older brother, Richard away at a distant boarding school, away from everything he knew, he just didn’t know that bit yet.

Guy didn’t go up to Hemi’s place to say goodbye. They never even talked about what was happening after summer and they started high school. It wasn’t the sort of conversation mates had and they hadn’t the first clue what was coming anyway. No, after another day’s patrolling the farm. Guy and Hemi walked back towards their very different homes. “See ya then”. “Yeah, see ya”. Life would be very different for them the next time they greeted each other again.

He didn’t understand why at the time but it started to dawn on Guy that the contrast between the life at the little primary school he and Hemi attended and the next stage of his life was going to be massive. Guys Mum started sorting out all his things to take. It hadn’t really occurred to Guy quite what was going on until his mum started making a list of all the stuff he would need to take with him. Guy had never been away without his family before, who has at that age? The worst bit though was his uniform. Guy had never worn a uniform. The uniform he was given was the one his older brother, Richard had grown out of the previous year.  Guy in his new boarding school uniform looked like someone wearing clothes they would grow into next year. Stupid in other words.

Richard was two years older than Guy and as the older brother he was a bit of a pain in the arse to Guy. Guy hadn’t missed him much since he left for boarding school a couple of years previously. Richard would come home every now and then on weekend leave and was like a different person to the former pain in the arse who had left anyway. No, Guy and Richard, despite being brothers had always been very different. You could use the old term ‘chalk and cheese’ but it’s just occurred to me that ‘town and country’ would be more appropriate.

So Guy was driven to the big city, to his new School. He was pretty quiet in the car. His Mum was chatting away about all the things he wasn’t listening to. It was a reassuring sound of his mother talking. But he just looked out the window and watched familiarity sweep by. His mum was talking about how he should look people in the eye. Shake hands properly. Not to worry about school work too much as he was one of the brightest kids in his primary school so he’d be fine with the new lessons. How Richard would look after him. He’s pretty sure that was the stuff she was talking about but he just looked out the window and agreed with her every once in a while.

The arrival at the boarding school was shocking for Guy, the whole day, he knew he was going to hate it the minute he walked through the gates with his Mum.

The size of the older boys struck him first. They weren’t boys, they were men in school uniform. They looked so unlike anything he had seen before. He’d met the older brothers of some of the kids at his primary school of course, but they had also been to his school so he had seen them grow up. This lot though, they were different. They were terrifying because they looked so at ease in the alien environment he had just walked into. They were so big.

The boys joining the day he did, all the new boarders, none looked like him. They had their own uniforms that fitted. They looked like they were used to wearing them. Their parents had flash cars. Range Rovers, big Ford Falcons, new Holden Commodores, even some of those mythical European cars like BMW and Audi. Guy had never seen a real one before and here was a couple of them in the same place.  The cars driven by people who owned farms rather than managed them. Some of the boys from out in the sticks like him had been to a ‘prep school’. He’d never heard of a prep school. They don’t have many in New Zealand. There was one called Huntley somewhere in the Rangitikei that these boys had come from. It’s just a flash school that rich country people send their boys to, to get them ready for high school. Like boarding school but with younger boys. Guy thought that sounded pretty crap. Other boys had been to schools called ‘intermediate’. These guys had all been to really formal schools. This was just a bigger version of the way they had always been to school.

Now he had a chance to look around, take it in a bit, he noticed that the place smelled funny, a mixture of city, mown grass, and linament. Something else there as well, food cooking. There was a sound of a big busy kitchen, like in a hospital. A sound he remembered from when Nicky was born and he went to visit his mum there. The hospital kitchen was nearby and he remembered the sound of it. This place reminded him of that. Institutional was the word he would have used had he known of it at the time.

His attention focussed back to the fact he had been hurried along to a library, a place all the new boys were gathered to meet the boarding house master and staff.

Guy was shown to chair with his mum, among all the other mums and sons. Some Dads were there, but not many. Dads have farms to run.

The house master looked like a grandad. A tough one, not a tough but kind one like Guys grandad, just tough. He strode up to the front of the room and turned to face the gathered faces. He didn’t have a face that reassured Guy everything was going to be OK. He looked mean to Guy. He wore a suit, a tie. His name was Mr Muldoon. He was really big. He just looked around the room, taking in all the faces he could see, getting a measure of the boys in an instant as only a lifetime of being a house master could allow him to. He spoke. What Mr Muldoon said next, while simple, affected Guy more than anything else he could have possibly uttered.

“Welcome men.”

Mr Muldoon then said some things about how important education was and how the school they had come to was the very best school in all of New Zealand. He spoke of the school’s history, the achievements of the ‘Old Boys’. The lifelong friendships they would forge here at the school. How the next phase of life had begun for the ‘men’ in the room. Guy heard little of that. He just heard the word ‘men’ being used to describe him.

Guy was 13 years old and had been called ‘men’. Guy didn’t feel like ‘men’, he was still a boy and he knew in his heart that he was not ready to be ‘men’. Unfortunately for Guy he was, in the words of people who know how to describe things, one for ‘wearing his heart on his sleeve’. Boarding school is not the sort of place where that trait is regarded as a quality, it was to become something of a curse.

Back out in the school courtyard. All the boys are gathered around. The mums are saying goodbye, everyone is trying not to cry and doing a shit job of it. The young men are trying not to look stupid by crying in front of the other young men. The older boarders, the ones who look like men in school uniform are all looking on, seeing what the new boys look like. I guess it’s a bit like the human version of weaning lambs. Guy hugs his mum, not too much though. She goes off to the car, looking back all the time, waving. She gets in the car and toots the horn, waves and drives off. Guy is standing there on the footpath with Richard who has come to see their mum off as well. Guy looks at Richard and knows he is not going to spend too much time ‘looking after him’.

Guy is on his own here, surrounded by 130 boys now called men, but on his own. He’d been here half a day and already knew he was in the wrong place. Some things are just known.

To be continued…

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Extinction of the Falcon

Holden UteAs you probably know, I’m off back to New Zealand in a month or so. When I say a month or so I mean I set off a month today. At the time of writing this, this time next month,  I’ll hopefully be boarding my Singapore Airlines flight to New Zealand, by hopefully I mean I’m hoping the flight is on time. Obviously I would normally fly Air New Zealand but I wasn’t inclined to pay a full third of the ticket price extra for a flight on an aeroplane.

 

I understand from all I’ve heard about Singapore Airlines that there are worse ways to get about the world. I also get to ride on the giant Airbus so that will be an experience in itself.

I could have got a slightly cheaper airfare on an obscure Chinese airline but, well you know. Look at the statistics. I’m a fan of a good safety record in an international air carrier. It’s one of my funny little things, like being afraid of sharks. I have no desire to combine air travel and sharks.

I digress; there was a point to this post. It’s one of nostalgia and for the purposes of noting a passing into legend of a legend. This post is titled the extinction of the Falcon. It’s not about birds of prey.

I’m going home to a New Zealand I last spent any significant time in, in 1996. I imagine it is a very different place in some respects to the New Zealand I last left in 1996 and first left in 1991. I understand they have a thing called craft beer in New Zealand now. It sounds like it is brewed by the sort of men who drink real ale over here in England while sporting a beard and wearing a homespun jumper. They gather in groups in village inns and bore for England on the merits of one real ale over another. I don’t like real ale. You know what real ale tastes like? Like a cold beer that’s been left on the bar over night to get warm and flat. It’s disgusting. It tastes like the dregs of a flagon of Tui the day after a good party. I don’t like to drink it.

I’ll come back to the beer though as it’s part of the story, about the extinction of the Falcon.

Recently Ford Motor Company, or Ford, to the general public, announced they were going to cease production of the Falcon in Australia. If you are not from Australia or New Zealand that information would have escaped your attention completely or have had no impact on your consciousness at all.

If you are from New Zealand or Australia though, this is quite significant. If you are a Ford or a Holden person from NZ or Auz, this is life changing news.

You see, New Zealand is a modern civilised country full of educated, creative and clever people doing nice things among the magnificent scenery. They have all sorts of new cosmopolitan things going on there that I am looking forward to finding out all about.

When I left though, back in 1991 there were two national dividing lines that would never be crossed by the people each side of them.

In those days and before, when you were born in New Zealand, you were brought up in a household that was Ford or Holden, Lion or DB. Simple. You could be Ford and DB, or Ford and Lion, you could be Holden and Lion or Holden and DB, but if you were born Ford, you would not grow up to go Holden. Same with Lion or DB.

Let me explain. The big local car manufacturers in Australia are Ford and General Motors, the Aussie version, which is Holden.  They assemble them in New Zealand out of parts shipped over from Australia I believe. But they are Aussie cars really.  Their flagship cars are the big six cylinder models which most of New Zealand and Australia chose over the smaller cars they also make. They are called The Ford Falcon and the Holden Commodore.

They are big powerful cars, one of them is a Ford and one is a Holden. They were a battle line in steel and rubber. If the Montague’s and Capulet’s lived in New Zealand and had cars? One family would have had a Ford and the other a Holden.  And if you called one by another name, it really would not smell as sweet. It would be a Ford or a Holden. A Father would most likely be denied and a son refused if they decided they would go out and spend the family cash on the wrong car.

One of these two cars is coming to an end. One is not. Half of Australia in particular will have to walk as they certainly won’t be buying a Holden Commodore for their six cylinder transport. Will they buy a lesser Ford? I doubt it. It’s not a Falcon. What’s the point? There will be Australians gathering to mourn at the Factory in Geelong. The polar bears will be happier though as the big Falcon is not terribly carbon friendly or something like that which is probably what has killed it. The signs of the times have bought us to a place where the legendary Aussie Ford Falcon is going to become extinct very soon. I see some unrest in the pubs and bars when the Holden fans offer something less than sympathetic to the Ford People on the demise of their preferred method of moving about.

That’s how it was back in 1991 anyway. I believe other cars are available now.

R.I.P The Ford Falcon.

ford-falcon-1960

This brings me neatly on to beer.   As I mentioned, apparently the Kiwis have lots of ‘craft beer’ to drink now? There are many micro-breweries and artisans creating a locally focussed refreshing beer for the good people of New Zealand to use to quench their thirst. They get very thirsty after a hard day explaining to tourists where the Hobbits are most likely to be found.

The big boys of Beer in New Zealand though are Dominion Breweries (DB) and Lion Nathan (Lion), which is now owned by the Japanese Beer maker Kirin.  Lion sold out to the Aussies years ago. Dominion Breweries sold out to Asia Pacific Breweries who then sold to Heineken. I know!! But when I was young, the dividing line that wasn’t Ford or Holden was Lion or DB. If you were born into a DB house you would go thirsty rather than drink Lion and vice versa.  They drink Lion in the big city and the rough parts of New Zealand. DB is the beer of the ‘heartland’.

Our home was a DB home. We lived near the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka. Tui is like a local version of DB in the south central North Island. It’s available nationwide but I always thought of it as our local beer. It tasted like home. Stop it, you know what I mean.

Let me give you a couple of indicators of the strength of feeling about the old Lion/DB divide.

My brother was acting barman at a party once in Auckland, the bar was a bathtub full of ice, so he was really a bath man rather than a barman.  The bath had numerous bottles of Lion and DB in among the ice as there were philistines as well as normal people attending the party. A bloke my brother didn’t know the pedigree of asked him for a beer. Brother enquired which one. The bloke snorted and replied ‘a real beer!’  Brother now is forced to choose a real beer for him from a bathtub in Auckland, which is the natural home of Lion. So he reaches for and hands the bloke a…. DB…..Imagine if he had chosen incorrectly? Well he wasn’t going to of course as DB is real beer and Lion is weasels piss.  The bloke took his real beer and drank from it gratefully. No drama.

I lost a bet once in Auckland. The price of the bet was a slab of beer.  As I said, Auckland is Lion territory so my work colleague wanted a slab of Lion Red as was his preference. I now have a huge quandary! I’ve got to go into a shop and pay money for a slab of what I think of as weasels piss. People seeing me buy it might think it’s for me! The shame would be unbearable. I had to honour my bet though. I took a sack in to the shop and made a big point of telling everyone I’d lost a bet and the beer was NOT for me.

I put it in the sack and hid it under some stuff in the boot of my car. I drove very carefully to my colleagues place so I didn’t crash and die. Imagine the fire brigade finding Lion beer in my car. I would spend eternity with people thinking I was a Lion drinker. No, not having that! Imagine if my friends and family had found out and I couldn’t explain? I’d have been buried in an unmarked grave, in Auckland.

They were challenging times when you were thirsty or needed a lift somewhere.

So, there you go, New Zealand is a young, dynamic and beautiful country now apparently largely without invisible dividing lines of cars and beer. I’m not sure I’ll be drinking that Craft stuff though. I’ll have to spend some time getting to know the beers again. I’ll think of it as research into what makes New Zealand beer tick. The important things I’ve missed out on while I’ve been away. When I have my beer in the evening I’ll tell myself I’m re-learning things about my country.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ll probably drive an old Land Rover.

Tui

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Going home

2 hours out from NZMomentous day today, it’s worth a note.

Friday 17th of May 2013.

Sounds non-descript, a day like many other days in mid-May.

However, it’s my own May Day, nothing to do with whatever May Day is about, I don’t even know what May Day is for now that I think about it.

Something to do with workers or kids swinging round a colourful pole with some ribbons. They are probably two completely separate things anyway.

No, my special day in May, this one, is worthy of note because I resigned from my job today. Plenty of people do that so that is nothing remarkable in itself either. Why the day is one to remember is that it marks the countdown to my departure from the UK in real rather than vague terms. I will have my last day at work on the 28th of June. I will hand back my work stuff and within a day or so I catch an aeroplane to New Zealand.

I’ve been away from New Zealand for 22 years in all and that’s almost half my life, certainly most of my adult life. That’s quite a thing when you read it back to yourself.

It got me thinking about what I’ll miss and won’t miss about England. What I am looking forward to when I get home and what I’ll find harder to adjust to. I’ve thought about a number of things in general terms, but I reckon I might try and be specific, see if I can put my finger on the things as it were.

The obvious things are obvious, but I may make some reference to why they matter. The thing I’m looking forward to the most though is having my own time. That’s not the same as space but I’m looking forward to that as well. In England there are so many people, such big infrastructure, and so much activity you have to operate on a level much faster than is natural for me. I’m looking forward to going places and doing things at my own pace and not feeling like I have to hurry because other people do.

I’ve always found it uncomfortable to have to be that bit more aggressive and impatient than should come naturally. There is too much going on in every direction you look. All the roads are busy, all the people are in a hurry because if you don’t go at everyone else’s speed you get left behind or you miss out on things. It’s not all that tangible when it’s going on around you but when you step out from the rush, you can see people being that bit more agitated, uneasy or even frantic than they want to be, but you have to be, so you are. In New Zealand the pace of life slows down a number of notches and I’m impatient to enjoy that, yes I know, I did that on purpose to see if you were paying attention or speed reading.

This brings me on to space and having some. For starters I like a bit of a look at the ocean from time to time, but the entire coastline of all of the UK and continental Europe is covered in people on a nice day. There is nowhere that has no people in abundance. If you wish to do anything at all worth making a trip for, there will be a queue for it. People get in your personal space here. They stand touching you on transport. You are forced to breathe the same air as total strangers whose relationship with cleansing products may be fleeting at best. There are very few places you can go, or see, or be, where someone else will not happen along shortly to shatter your solitude. I’m not going to miss having to share my own space with other people I have not invited into it.

Whale BayI’m looking forward to being able to park my car anywhere I like and walk into the bush and just hearing the sounds of the bush. I’m going to go driving down some country roads by myself just to take a look at the countryside, because I can. Sitting on a quiet beach and watching the water, having the place to myself because down the coast a bit is another beach someone else likes better. They’ll be doing something solitary on that one.

It’s noisy here. There is never, ever, any peace and quiet. No matter where you are, unless you are on a mountain in Scotland at the right time of day, is there silence or just the sound of the breeze or the birds or both. There is always an airliner or ten overhead, a train in the distance or nearby. There will be the hum of the many hundreds of roads nearby. There is always the distant thrum of a country with 60 million souls living and breathing and moving about. I want to sit on a hill and hear the grass blowing with no sounds of machinery overhead or about me.

Because there are so many people doing so many things there is never proper darkness at night. There is always the light of a near or distant town or city reflecting into the sky and making the stars have to work too hard to be seen properly. When you wish to sit outside at night you have to put a jumper or a coat on, even on most summer nights. You are hardly ever able to sit around in the evening in shirt sleeves. At home I’m going to lie on some grass somewhere and just look up at the sky. The night sky in New Zealand is completely full of stars. It’s amazing.

People will tell me I have missed a whole bunch of stuff about what’s wrong with Britain but that will do me for now. I’m not so bothered about the issues to do with good governance or economic management. Of crime or education, or the things you read about in the first dozen pages of a newspaper. That’s just noise. I’m talking about the things that wear on me, have worn on me and I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to them.

The things I’ll miss though are the sights and the people. The extraordinary amount of culture and history everywhere you look. I drive about a lot during my day as part of my job and I always take time, every single time I go out to see something important, significant, Historical or from a postcard scene. I’m never disappointed. There is so much to see here you can never tire of it and it’s a shame most Brit’s just drive or walk past the amazing things all about them. The people here are by and large very nice, good company and decent with a sense of fair play. I’m generalising of course, but that’s the impression I have gained in my time here. The Brits are ok as a bunch of folk. I like them.

I’ve been very privileged to be able to see so many of and make the most of the things that make Britain great. I’ve been very lucky to live so close to Europe that I could drive there for the evening or fly anywhere I wanted or could afford to whenever I chose to. I can’t do that in New Zealand but I’m not going to need to. I know that because I know it.

If I want to go on holiday, I’ll go for a drive to New Zealand. I might take a plane to a South Seas paradise sort of place instead. I might even go to Australia for comedy purposes to remind myself why we mock the Australians. I also have friends there who seem keen to point out to me that I may have a false impression of Australia. We’ll see.

I may find the lack of the world on my doorstep makes me feel isolated. I know where it is though, I’ve been there. I’m sure I’ll encounter some challenging attitudes. I don’t really know until I get there what is going to cause me to stop and think about what my new life is about but I’m certain that the finding out will be more fun and interesting than uncomfortable.

I’m going home though. That much I know. New Zealand is and always has been my home. I’m very much looking forward to standing on New Zealand soil again and not being 12,000 miles away from it when I speak of home. I’m going home, soon. Te Uri

Categories: New Zealand, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Just words

Hemingway‘A picture is worth a thousand words’.  That’s a pretty common phrase, as though great imagery is better than great description. While it’s a nice concept, it is almost entirely rubbish. That’s just my view of course, I can’t paint a picture of my view on that so I’ll write a thousand words or so to explain what I mean. See what I did there?

Words are the lifeblood of civilisation. I’m not aware of too many civilisations that continue to prosper by relying on visual imagery to communicate.  Great art, images and photography are amazing, incredible and when truly great are feasts for one’s eyes. They please your eyes.

All the truly famous or historic images are accompanied by volumes of written words to explain their significance though.  I’m not aware of any great literature that has been transposed into an oil painting or photograph to better illustrate its meaning.  So while the phrase above makes a bold and significant statement. It is actually not true, not for me anyway. What’s my point I hear you ask? My point is just that people should understand the true power of words and their impact on peoples lives.

I’m writing a book. I’ve mapped it out and now I have to fill in the words. The story is good, if I do say so myself, but the true power of it will come from the way I word it. The storyline is just structure. The words are what will engage people in the meaning of the book and dictate their enjoyment of it.

My favourite author is Hemingway. He is my literary idol. My favourite of his works is ‘The old man and the sea’. It’s the simplest, most uncomplicated story I have ever read, yet the most movingly written. It’s one of those books you read in a single sitting and you can visualise every single aspect of the story. You can even feel the heat; you can actually see the heat in his story just by the way he describes it. I’d love to be able to do that.

People don’t spend enough time choosing their words. You’ve heard the phrase ‘choose your words carefully. There is actually nothing you need to choose more carefully. The wrong words, badly chosen and delivered with malice or lack of thought can crush a soul. You cannot do that by showing someone an image. Words and how they are used about us, or to us, or near us, can affect how we turn out as people. People spend years in therapy because of things they may have been consistently told by the wrong or the right people saying the wrong thing, for lack of care, thought or intent. Just words, used wrongly, can ruin lives.

The reason I mention that is because recently the power of the written, or spoken, word has dawned on me properly. Every single thing we think or do, every decision we make, either personally or globally are discussed in words, agreement reached, decisions made. In the world’s corridors of power, words are exchanged and wars declared or peace agreed on a regular basis. The horror starts when the speaking stops and stops when the speaking starts.  ‘The Pen is mightier than the sword’ is another popular debating topic. You can debate the for and against of the topic for the rest of time but the reality is that the sword is only laid down when the ink is dry on the peace accord. The peace will have arisen out of ‘talks’, words used in compromise and conciliation.

The beauty of the words and the use of them though is the way people seek inspiration from them. Great art is wonderful to visit, admire and understand. But I don’t think too many people changed their lives for the better after seeing a nice Picasso or a picture of a flower. The songs you love the most, the ones you recall throughout your life? It’s the lyrics. Of course you like a nice melody and classical music or Jazz is a great escape, either soothing, calming or a soundtrack to a state of mind. But the songs you send to a loved one are to do with the lyrics. If you use music to document moments in your life, I’ll wager the most meaningful of those moments have words attached, lyrics not instrumentals.

Cinema, the movies, film! I don’t think the writers of the films get anything like the credit they deserve. The actors are the names we remember, the most prestigious awards are given to the readers and interpreters of the movies lines, the screen play.  But without the words, the scripts, the lines, the actors would be redundant. The movies pointless and the industry which brings us the greatest shows on earth would be something of nothing. Two hours of moving images with no words is really just conceptual art, there is a very limited appeal for that stuff.

Think about it, your favourite films, the bits from your favourite films. Do you describe the sweeping panorama, the sunset, the bright colour or explosion or helicopter flyby to your friends when you discuss your favourite film? Or do you recall the great lines, the closing scene, and the clever one liners?  The gags, the meaningful quotes, the perfect thing to say at the perfect time? The phrases in the lines you quote again and again. They make you laugh, or cry, or cry laughing, or think or learn or be inspired, even if just for a while. The movies you get lost in for whichever reason you personally love them are almost entirely because of the lines, the script. The writers of those words should get the biggest awards, not the pretty or charismatic people who just have to learn them.

In one way all I have wanted to do here is to draw your attention to and remind you of something people don’t spend enough time thinking about. The power of words, conflict starts when the words run out.

Never run out of words. Learn them and love them. Learn how to use them, unless you really like fighting people, in which case I feel very sorry for you.  If you have children, teach them to read, teach them to be able to articulate their point of view. If you are a teacher, remember you are an educator, you have a massive responsibility for the minds that you are entrusted with, so don’t underestimate the responsibility you have.  The minds that pass through an education system will one day look forward to, or despair of, their future and one of these things is better than the other. Education is the foundation of civilisation. If a teacher is disengaged from their role then they have no place teaching. (I’ll be making a pointed reference to that in my book by the way)

I think what I have said here is pretty straight forward and hopefully makes you think a bit about the importance of what you say to people. It’s very simple, words and how they are used, form, shape and change lives.

I don’t have to paint you a picture do I?

Categories: General views, Inspiration, Raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Wisdom

Sand at 10I’m not sure how long this post will stay up for, but it needs to be said. It’s not part of my usual repetoire, but it’s something I need to say and it’s this. It’s simply an observation or two, a bit of wisdom maybe, an admission and something significant to finish.

First, some wisdom

If someone ever tells you not to listen to them as ‘they have terrible judgement’. Take their word for it. No-one would make that stuff up. They will know from experience that they have got a number of things wrong and given people terrible advice. So listen to them, take their word for it as they have just told you they have terrible judgement.

Never do anything they advise you to do.

I’ve always felt people make judgements with the head rather than the heart. You decide what to do about things in your head but your heart will let you know how you feel about it. Some people are head people and some are heart people. I know something about this. The head deals with the logical, the heart with the emotional. What makes sense, in your head, may not necessarily be the right thing at all. I believe the head tells you what is right to do but the heart tells you what is right, for you. Sometimes it’s hard to know, or decide, or choose between your head and your heart. There is another place, inside your heart called your ‘heart of hearts’. This is where you know for sure, one way or another.

Everybody listens to the bit that works for them, that’s what makes people different. Are you a head or a heart person? I don’t know of many who are both. I’m certainly not one of them. I know which one I am.

Which brings me on to another bit of wisdom. About hearts

If you know something is wrong in ‘your heart of hearts’ and you do nothing about it, it will break your heart, one way or another, sooner or later.

More wisdom?

Always have the courage of your own convictions or you will always be at the mercy of someone elses.

More wisdom?

If you leave an unresolved situation, it is not an escape. You do not escape an unresolved situation, you flee it. The situation is still unresolved but you just fled. That is different to escaping. You escape from a prison or torment.  No-one ever started an adventure by escaping something, they were just escaping. You look forward to an adventure not escape to one.

Whether flight or escape, whichever it is, or you call it, or are doing, both only end when you find safety. Do not confuse shelter with safety.  Safety is when you feel secure, shelter is where you hide from something.  What is safe is when you feel safe, not when someone else suggests you should. Being safe and secure makes you happy, gives you peace, which sounds great, but it’s not that simple, sadly. That is a whole other examination of a state of mind. That is not one I am going to undertake here.

Nearly the final bits of wisdom, almost but not quite there.

If you think nobody listens to a word you say, you are just saying the wrong thing to the wrong people. Say the right thing to the right people and they will listen intently.

Never do anything against your own will unless it is for the greater good. Never make an adult do something against their will as that is subjugation.

As an aside, but an important one;  You can try to make children do things against what they think is their will only if you have convinced them of the sense of it. It’s better they don’t do things reluctantly because they must but instead do things willingly because they want to. Then it becomes their will as well. If you can’t get them to see the difference then there is no sense in it to the child. You’ve more parenting to do, you aren’t making sense yet. Remember you are forming a mind and moulding a character, but it does not have to be in your own image or to your own design, you are not God. Your job as parent is guidance, not judgement. Judgements will be made later on the merits of your guidance.

Neatly back to judgement and the final bit of wisdom.

Never do anything against your better judgement. You know what is right for you and your life. Trust your judgement.  You will know what is right in your ‘heart of hearts’.

Most commonly, people who take an action against their better judgement will at some stage in later life, rue what ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’. You knew at the time it was a bad idea, hence the phrase is almost universally ironic, but rarely funny.

An admission and something significant

22 years ago rather than resolve a situation I had in New Zealand, I fled it. I thought I was escaping, I fled. I constantly sought shelter. But I never found safety, where I felt secure. So I was always unhappy. I made some calls and did some things I shouldn’t have done against my better judgement and as a result I didn’t do what I knew what was right in my ‘heart of hearts’. We know how that turns out.

There has been an awful lot of life in between then and now. But I have finally found the courage of my own convictions.

I know now what to do. I know where to go. I know what my better judgement tells me and I know how I feel about what comes next. I’m going back to New Zealand. I’m going to have an adventure and I’m looking forward to it. My adventure might just be the next stage of life, but it feels like an adventure. For the first time in as long as I can remember I am going forward to a positive future rather than enduring a change in circumstances against my own will, which is another result of the fallout from doing things a long time ago against my better judgement. I’m not going to do that anymore.

I’m going to go home to do the things I know I am a good at and want to do, rather than just doing what I don’t want to do, but do, because I am able. I am going to trust my better judgement and do what I know I am not just good at, but best at. I know this in my heart of hearts and that makes me happy.

Make sense? To me it does, perfect sense. This is why I am doing what I am doing, what I should have done years ago, but didn’t, against my better judgement.

Categories: Beginners guides, General views, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

New Zealanders at War

NZ Memorial to the lost in the battle of the Somme

NZ Memorial to the lost in the battle of the Somme

I was in the New Zealand Army for a while and take quite an interest in NZ military history. There are some very inspiring and interesting stories about what Kiwi servicemen and women got up to in the world’s great conflicts.

Kiwi’s have a pretty incredible military history and I want to talk a bit about some of the most amazing of our servicemen. So if you would like a snapshot of how the Kiwi’s punch way above their weight in a shooting war, this will give you a couple of good stories to toss into a quiet night in the pub.

New Zealand sent over 100,000 troops to the First World War and suffered just about the highest per capita casualty rates of the war of any country. (Our population was barely one million at the time) In World War Two the Kiwi’s achieved some impressive feats. In North Africa, Greece, Crete and Italy, in the skies over Britain and Europe. In the Pacific Campaign. Army, Navy and Airforce all heavily involved in very large numbers, going overseas to fight for King and Country. In fact over 200,000 men and women from New Zealand served in the Armed forces during the Second World War. Our population at the time was just over 1.6 million.

New Zealand made the 3rd largest contribution by country of pilots to the RAF during the ‘Battle of Britain’. The man widely credited with masterminding the victory in the Battle of Britain, Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park GCB, KBE, MC & Bar, DFC, was a New Zealander. He came to be known as ‘The Defender of London’.

645px-LRDG_RADIO_TRUCKIt was the New Zealanders who breached the German lines at El Alamein, which turned the tide of the war in North Africa. It’s a fantastic but not widely known fact that the world famous ‘Special Air Service’ or ‘SAS’ originally evolved out of an outfit in the Second World War called ‘The Long Range Desert Group’ (LRDG). A raiding and reconnaissance unit operating deep behind enemy lines in the North African Desert Campaign. The LRDG was initially called the ‘No 1 Long Range Patrol Unit’ (LRP). When first formed it was made up almost entirely of volunteers from the 2nd New Zealand Division! The 2nd New Zealand Division had been specifically selected to ask for volunteers to form the LRP because of their unique qualities as soldiers and men. Men who were ‘energetic, innovative, self-reliant, physically and mentally tough, and able to live and fight in seclusion in the Libyan desert’. Made of stout stuff, the Kiwis. Rommel would have told you that. He said the LRDG “caused us more damage than any other unit of equal strength”.

New Zealanders have served with distinction in pretty much every theatre of operation since we formed a military. Since the great wars, we’ve had troops in Korea, Vietnam, Malaya, Oman, Rhodesia, Bosnia, The Gulf Wars, you name the conflict, we’ve most likely had military personnel involved in some way or other. This comes as a surprise to most people.

We’ve also had a large contingent of our SAS doing some tough fighting in Afghanistan. It’s worth noting that the NZSAS selection course is the worlds toughest Special Forces selection and training. It is an incredible combination of endurance activities. Taking men to a place only the very strongest of mind can undertake and complete. I say strongest of mind because such extreme physical endurance requires a state of mind most just don’t have. Way beyond where the vast majority would give up and quit, or worse.

The greatest and most famous award for valour in war is the Victoria Cross. The French might argue that the Legion d’Honneur is, but since Salma Hayek got one for being married to a friend of Sarkozy I think we can settle that argument. The Americans will vote for the Medal of Honour. I’m sure it is a tremendous medal but it is not the Victoria Cross.

New Zealand soldiers are the world’s most prolific winners of the Victoria Cross per capita of all nations eligible, which is the entire Commonwealth. That’s pretty amazing.

Everyone has heard about Gallipoli. It was the most famous of the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) battles in the First World War and there are a couple of key facts everyone should know. New Zealand put about 8,500 men on the beach at Gallipoli. By the end of the campaign approximately 7,500 of them were killed or injured.

The Kiwi’s won a disproportionately low number of gallantry awards for their heroism in that campaign because of the attitude of the British officer in charge of the NZ expeditionary force. Think about it. If you are an ambitious officer given command of some rough colonials fighting on a cliff face this is not your ideal posting. If you have a limited allocation of gallantry awards you can hand out, who is best to give them to? Some ropey Kiwi soldiers or the young officer sons of the Generals you are desperate to impress back home who can help your career? Exactly.

ANZAC Day at Westminster AbbeyThis is not a history lesson but one bit of information should give some perspective of what Gallipoli was like. At 4.15 am on the 8th of August 1915, 760 men of the Wellington Battalion set off to take Chunuk Bair, a vital piece of high ground just 15 feet wide at its summit. By the end of the day only 70 men were left. The following day much the same casualties were inflicted upon the reinforcements. Fighting for your life on a hot rock face with no food or water in the face of innumerable attackers fighting for their own country is a tough way to spend time. We cannot imagine today what those men went through.

Of course New Zealand soldiers fought on the Western front as well, in all the major battles. The Somme and Passchendaele being the most prevalent. A day we must never forget is the 12th of October 1917, during the third battle of Ypres, known as Passchendale. In just two hours, more than 2,800 New Zealand soldiers were killed, wounded or listed as missing – the most disastrous day in New Zealand’s military history. Imagine those numbers just for a moment for a country which at the time had a population of around one million. We had sent over 40% of our entire male population of military age to fight on the other side of the world and those who went were mostly killed or injured.

There is too much heroism to talk about in a short essay so I’m going to just flag up a handful of incredible men.

Sergeant Richard (Dick) Travis, VC, DCM, MM & Croix de Guerre (Belgium). Most have never heard of him but he was probably New Zealand’s greatest ever soldier. He won the three highest military decorations it was possible for a non-commissioned officer to win. He was completely unique in his day. Years ahead of his time. He spent his war out in no man’s land most nights, raiding, sniping and harassing the enemy lines. Fighting a very effective guerrilla war making the Germans lives a misery. In those days you kept your head down until the time came to go ‘over the top’. Dick Travis went over the top all the time. At one stage he went out on 40 successive nights. He never wore a helmet. He was a huge inspiration to the troops in his unit the 2nd Otago Battalion. He died in action 26 July 1918.
VC Charles Hazlitt UphamMany regard Captain Charles Upham VC & Bar as our greatest soldier. Upham was an incredible man and the only combat soldier in history to win two VC’s. Much has been written about his exploits so I won’t elaborate here. I just want to remind you of him. He is one of our country’s greatest heroes and was a very modest man.

The greatest injustice in NZ military history occurred in the 2nd World War. Fighting in North Africa was the New Zealand Maori Battalion. They fought with great heroism and distinction in Greece, Crete and Italy. They were very much in the thick of things in North Africa.

At a place called Takrouna in Tunisia. A very small handful of soldiers led by Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi DCM fought the most extraordinarily fierce battle on a rocky hillside. Hand to hand fighting by a small band of troops against massively superior enemy numbers on very unforgiving steep terrain. I won’t go into the whole story of Lance Sergeant Manahi’s heroics in this battle; you might like to read about it in detail. But despite FIVE Generals recommending him for a Victoria Cross. One even remarked “in my opinion the most gallant feat of arms I have ever witnessed in the course of the war”, it was downgraded to a DCM. It was because another Maori soldier, 2nd Lieutenant Ngarimu had won a VC just a few weeks previously. Apparently it was unseemly to award two VC’s to Maori soldiers in the same campaign.

Well worth noting is the VC for Sergeant James Allen. He won his for climbing out onto the wing of a Wellington Bomber to put out an engine fire. Imagine that for a moment. Lying on the wing of a plane at a few thousand feet, going a couple of hundred miles an hour fighting an engine fire with a canvas cockpit cover, in the dark.

You should read about the extraordinary Nancy Wake, known as ‘the white mouse’ who was No 1 on the Gestapo wanted list in France. Nancy was an incredibly brave woman who worked with the resistance to help over a thousand allied POW’s and shot down airmen escape from occupied France.

There are so many stories on incredible heroism by the Kiwi’s at war; there are many great books on the subject. I find it really inspiring and I’m sorry I can only list a couple of particular story’s here as blog readers don’t hang around too long. It’s also a shame so little was made of our most recent VC in the news outside New Zealand. Corporal Willie Apiata VC (NZSAS) won his fighting in Afghanistan and lived to tell the tale.

Our main remembrance day is called ANZAC day. It’s on 25 April.

So there you go, if you wish to find out more, and you should, the internet is your friend.

 

ANZAC's

ANZAC’s

 

 

Categories: General views, New Zealand, Raves | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

About a giant eel

House

This is a fictional short story, it’s loosely, but not all that loosely, based on a true story. I’ve changed some names of course. But the situation is real, the eel was real, This could be a true story and sort of is. All I have done here is alter some minor aspects of reality, slightly. So it’s a fictional story, but only so because of a chance of circumstance.

The plan is that this is the first part of what I am making into my first book. I’m writing an actual book, a novel I guess.

I know the rest of the story but I just need to think the last bits through and fill in the rest of the words.

For the meantime, I hope you enjoy where it starts.

The giant eel

The three of them were never going to agree who ‘actually’ caught the eel. It was a massive eel. They knew who caught it, but would never agree about it though because they would never talk about it anymore. It was old times, long ago when they were boys, they have lives apart now, but each of them knows who caught the eel.

They must do,  I reckon they know alright.

Hemi and Guy were mates you see. One might say mates by proximity. I don’t reckon that’s right, they’d never known when they became mates; they had just always been mates. Hemi was the shepherds’ boy; he lived up the metal road from the big homestead.  I never figured out why in New Zealand they called a gravel road, metal. Maybe I should look it up. Anyway, it doesn’t matter now.  Hemi’s place was pretty run down, paint peeling, fence broken, looked about ready to fall down in a decent gust of wind but it had survived plenty. It could get a bit blowy up on the station boundary, pretty exposed up there. Guy lived in the Homestead. He was the farm manager’s son.

So like I said, Hemi and Guy were mates since before they knew each other. I don’t know if they would have been mates if they hadn’t lived up the road from each other on the same farm in the middle of the sticks. It doesn’t matter really because they did.

Hemi would come down to Guys place and say the same thing each time to Guys mum, who always seemed to be in the kitchen. There was always something cooking on the stove, usually some preserves. Hemi loved Guys mums’ preserves. Hemi would never come in the house though; he’d just stand on the door mat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Guy’s mum knew what he wanted but she never presumed to tell him. “Can Guy come out Mrs A?”  “Are you not going to come in Hemi?” “Aw, yeah nah”. Hemi never came into the homestead. He was always asked but he never went inside Guys house.

“Guy! Hemi’s here” Guy’s mum shouted down the long hall. The standard long hall to the bedrooms in every New Zealand sheep station homestead. Guy would appear as always as he knew what time Hemi would turn up. Not because he knew the time. He didn’t have a watch yet. That was next year, when he turned 13. No he just knew what time Hemi would turn up. Mostly because he could see him coming down the drive as always. Guy never went to Hemi’s house except to walk home with him. Hemi always came to get Guy at Guys place.

It’s funny really; he had never been told he couldn’t go to Hemi’s house. Hemi had never suggested he should nor shouldn’t, I just reckon it was because Guy was a bit scared of Hemi’s dad. He didn’t even know why. He was always nice enough. Told good yarns and showed you how to do neat stuff like set traps and make an eel gaff. But he was different around the house. When Hemi went home, He and Guy would walk towards their houses from whichever way they had come and if Hemi’s dad was there he was always really gruff, you know. He only ever called Hemi ‘boy’. “Get in the house boy” he would say even though Hemi was going in the house anyway. So Guy just didn’t like to go to Hemi’s place

When they weren’t at school or on the bus, that bus, the journey to school seemed to take hours, it must have and it was dusty, metal roads get really dusty. You just sort of breathed differently in the bus once you left the tar seal.  I got side tracked there though, back to not being at school or on the bus. Hemi and Guy would have important adventures. They knew that while their dads were doing the farm work they, the boys, had other duties.

It’s important to explain that young blokes like them have this intangible role on the farm. You patrol the farm. It’s important work. You’re looking out for stuff your dads might miss so you can let them know. You know the sort of thing, deer sign, and new rabbit holes. Dead sheep. You were dying to see some wild pig tracks but you knew in your heart they lived in the bush and weren’t coming your way. Dads would go out and hunt pigs at the weekend for fun but that’s for Dads, not kids and you just help with getting the pig ready to cook up. There’s no hurry to go pig hunting. There’s other things to do.

The farm patrolling can lose its importance for a bit though when you have a quiet day on the job. There’s nothing new going on at the rabbit hole in the blackberry. No deer sign, nothing. That’s when you head for the creek.

Hemi and Guy spent a lot of time at the creek. They knew it had some pretty big eels in it. They’d lay lines out overnight and 9 times out of 10 when they came back in the morning there would be an eel hooked. Not often big eels, usually just a few pounds. They never ate them, creek eels taste crap, they found out the hard way. No the eels get given to the cats now. Hemi and Guy knew there was a massive eel in the creek, the way only boys can be sure of that sort of thing.  You go for the big eel with a gaff though, not a line.

The gaff Hemi’s dad made them was the best one. Really sharp point, a long stout handle from an old shed broom. The gaff was like a giant fish hook tied to the broom handle.  The gaff is used to fish in the weeds along the edge of the creek.  Hemi and Guy had made the mistake of talking about the giant eel they reckoned was in the creek to their next door neighbour up the road. Mike, he was a bit of a smart arse know all and he reckoned he knew everything about gaffing eels. He told them he was coming to help. They didn’t want him to come and help but when you live in the sticks you can’t say no really. Besides for all his being a smart arse know all, Mike was just really good at gaffing eels and Hemi and Guy knew it. It wasn’t because he was a smart arse know all they didn’t want him to come. They didn’t want him to catch their eel, which they knew he would if they found it. I tell you it’s tough having this sort of crisis for a couple of young mates.

I forgot to mention that Guy’s sister Nicky would often tag along. Guy hated Nicky tagging along. Hemi loved it. He was really keen on Nicky but he’d never tell Guy that. Nicky knew the rules though. She would trail at a small distance, not getting in the way. Pretending to be interested in her own stuff.  No, she wanted to help but luckily she knew that girls got in the way and Guy would get all pissed off. Hemi pretended he was all cool and relaxed about her but even so he always somehow got a bit tongue tied when he went to speak to her. Hemi’s dad wouldn’t have been too keen on Hemi liking Nicky, not because she was Pakeha and he was a Maori, maybe a bit of that, but she was also the bosses girl.  The boys were too young to really understand that stuff. Hemi just knew that Nicky was pretty and smelled nice. She was always nice to him.

Hemi’s sisters weren’t that nice to him. He had two little sisters who never seemed to come outside, they just looked out the window all the time and they always had snot in their noses, they didn’t say much. He had two big sisters who lived away, they’d come home sometimes and they also only ever called called him ‘boy’. They always stunk of beer and smokes and they always bought a couple of blokes home with them. Angry blokes. They always called him ‘boy’ too! He bloody hated being called ‘boy’ by everyone. Guy never called him boy and neither did Nicky.  But all that story is for another time. This is about the eel.

You know those days when it’s almost warm and you can see the warmth in the air but can’t quite feel it? You know it’s going to be warmer tomorrow. The long dry grass has a particular crackle when the wind blows a bit, sounds a bit like being on fire, but not. The air has a good feel about it like the day is in a good mood. The boys were on a mission. They reckon they’d seen where the eel might be. They hadn’t realised it until they were nearly back home and it dawned on both of them at the same time. It was too bloody late to go back but they knew where the eel was. He’d have to wait until tomorrow.

That night was very long night for both of them but now the day was here and they had packed things they needed to go after the eel.

Bloody Mike turned up. So the three boys set off into the day which was in a good mood. Hemi and Guy were kind of in a good mood but not as good as they would have been if bloody smart arse know all Mike hadn’t turned up.

The three of them stood by the creek where Hemi and Guy reckoned the eel was. He wasn’t. They just stood there, planning.  Mike had his own gaff. Hemi had the one his dad made and Guy had a fearsome looking pitchfork he’d found in the hay barn. They reckoned he couldn’t have gone far from where they only guessed he might have been anyway.

Eels are always he. I’m pretty sure no-one refers to an eel as a she which is a bit of a shame for the she eels as at least half of them must be. No, eels are always a ‘he’.

So the boys just work the bank in hope more than anything. Stabbing and fishing the weeds along the edge of the creek. So intent on the stabbing and fishing, so lost in the hunt for the eel they’d forgotten they only guessed the existence of, they went along the creek. Guy stopped first.

He knew what he had seen but he couldn’t quite believe it. He waved wildly at the other two, at least keeping in mind he needed to be silent. They came trotting over, sensing, hoping that something special was happening. Guy was pointing at a shadow in the creek, in the weeds, but not. The other two just stared. The shadow moved but the sun hadn’t. It was the eel and it was bigger than any of them could have imagined.

An expert on TV or something might say that ‘the difference between excited boys and experienced men out fishing having spied the catch of their life was about to be starkly revealed’. The men will form a plan to ensure they don’t lose the moment of a life time. Boys will fling their fishing gear at the eel with all their might. Guy was quickest though and his pitchfork most suited. He plunged it straight into what he thought was the middle of the eel. It wasn’t. That was just the tail. Hemi and Mike both shouted out some language they had learned from their dads but wouldn’t dream of uttering in front of them.

The eel was a monster. Guys pitchfork was bucking wildly in his hands, the eel almost stronger than he. Hemi and Mike now knew where they needed their gaffs to go and went in hard further up the eel. All three had a purchase now and all three went into the water.  Into the water with the giant eel. The water isn’t deep but the boys aren’t used to being pulled into it by a thrashing giant eel they each have a hold of.

The three found the strength only found in panic, they might have said later it was excitement, no they were panicking as boys in waist deep water with a giant eel might. The water was only waist deep but Hemi was thrashing around, he couldn’t swim, He didn’t have to swim but when you are waist deep in water with a giant eel you remember you can’t swim.

It just occurred to me that I don’t know why so many Maori don’t teach their kids to swim. Maybe they do. But in my memory and it’s pretty long, none of the Maori kids I knew could swim.

Once they calmed down from the shock of going into the water, the boys  wrestled the eel on to the bank and set about sorting it out to take home.  They had never seen the like of it. No-one had, not round here. They stuffed it in the sack and took turns lugging it the long way back across the farm to the homestead. There was never any discussion that the eel was going to Guys place and not Hemi’s . It was just known. I don’t know how or why, just that it is known.

It certainly wasn’t bloody going to smart arse know all Mike’s house that’s for sure.

Guy’s mum stood there open mouthed at what was coming up the lawn. She assured them that in all her years she had never seen or heard of a bigger eel. Maybe they should call the paper to come and take a photo and write it in the news!

The wet tired boys sat on the veranda. Guys mum bought them some cordial, it was the best cordial they ever had. They just sat there looking at the eel. Guys’ dad rode up the drive from the days mustering. He tied the horse to the shed and walked across the lawn. “See you boys have been fishing”. That was it; he just went in the house. Sometimes you never see a spirit being crushed or even know it when it happened. Sometimes you do.

The boys went down the driveway. Mike hopped on his crappy bike and rode home. Guy and Hemi walked up to Hemi’s place, silently companionable with each other, they were mates you see. Sometimes there is nothing to say or no need to say it.  You aren’t sure which and it doesn’t matter anyway, when you are mates, you just know.

They got to Hemi’s broken old gate, still hanging on its hinges, just. Hemi’s dad was chopping some wood. It was a long way to winter but maybe he was just bored.  All Guy knew was that he was a bit scared of Hemi’s dad and now he had an axe as well.

“Get in the house boy”

It was a long time ago, that eel. They never had the chance to finish the argument about who caught it as events from another story for another time over took them and they went their own ways, as boys do when they grow up.

It was the biggest eel ever caught round their way. A giant eel. The paper never wrote about it though.

The link below is to the next chapter

The wrong place

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

On The Hobbit.

HobbitThis is not a film review. It’s an essay about how you view things can affect how you see things. It’s written off the back of the recent release of The Hobbit on DVD.

Sometime earlier this year ‘The Hobbit’ was released in cinemas. I was very excited. I’d been waiting for years, since ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was first shown and we were told there was going to be a film version of The Hobbit made. The Lord of the Rings was released in 2001! That’s 12 years ago now. I’d been waiting for 12 years for The Hobbit to be made into a film. So it’s quite surprising then that when I went excitedly along to the cinema to see it, I walked out of the cinema about half an hour into the film to go home disappointed. Can you imagine? I had taken the wrong eyes along.

The wrong eyes you say? Yes, let’s back pedal a bit to see why I was wearing the wrong eyes.

The very first book I remember being engaged with for fun rather than for school work was The Hobbit. We had it read to us by our teacher at Primary School, Mr Algar. I’m trying to remember how old I was but I can’t have been more than 9 as I was seated on the right of the classroom, the ‘standard 3’ desks were lined up on the right in our school classroom. One tended to be 9 years old in standard 3 in New Zealand in those days. I can remember where I was sitting when the story was read to me, funny what you recall when you think about it. Anyway, I was captivated by the story. The Hobbit is very much an adventure story written for children you see.

As a result of my love of The Hobbit story I took on the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was a teenager. It’s too big a tale for a child not yet in their teens. It’s also an enormous physical monster as a single volume and even bigger as a set of three books. You could beat an Orc to death with a hard back copy of the Lord of the Rings. I read it twice in my teens. I’m no fan of swords and sandals epics or the dungeons and dragons style of literature. The Lord of the Rings is neither of those things but sometimes thought of as such by those who haven’t read it. It was the seminal book of my youth and when I heard it was to be made into a film I was excited beyond reason for an adult.  The films did not disappoint. They were magnificent.

Anyone who hasn’t seen them because they don’t like the sort of story they understand the Lord of the Rings to be is doing themselves a great disservice. They are incredible and actually have something for everyone. Quite apart from the Epic film making. For chaps there is Liv Tyler looking astonishingly beautiful as the Elf, Arwen. For countryside fans there is abundant horse flesh and incredible scenery. For the ladies there is Viggo Mortensen looking smouldering as Aragorn. If you are a techy types there is Mr Smith from the Matrix trilogy making a very impressive job in his transformation to the wise immortal Elf, Elrond. There are some giant eagles and probably the biggest set pieces in cinema history. I must have seen the films in the trilogy four or five times each. There is no swearing. I can even place the faces of people I knew. Everyone in New Zealand knows someone who has had a role as an extra in the Lord of the Rings. But this is not about the Lord of the Rings. This is about the Hobbit and how I was so disappointed by the film version of my favourite book as a child. Simply because I went to see it wearing the wrong eyes.

I went along to see The Hobbit on a Friday night, as an adult. I was expecting to see the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, which is effectively what The Hobbit is. I forgot what it was. The Hobbit is a movie made of one of the greatest ever children’s adventure stories. I was watching it as an adult wearing adult eyes. I’d forgotten what it was for and who it was for. It’s for kids. Quite why this didn’t occur to me, I don’t know. Maybe because I don’t have kids around to remind me what kids like or think. I rarely interact with children so you forget you were one yourself. I did The Hobbit a disservice by expecting it to keep up with me as a grown up, an adult.

As soon as The Hobbit was released on DVD I bought it and watched it again. I watched it with the right eyes in, a child’s eyes, and it was brilliant. The characters are amazing. Each dwarf individually memorable and as they tumbled through Bilbo’s door I knew who was coming next. Dwalin and Balin, Oin and Gloin, Kili and Fili and so on. The timbre of their voices in the songs, just as I imagined them from the book. The book came flooding back, not that Pale Orc though, where did he come from?  Nonsense! Stop messing with the story, it’s good enough in its own right without making stuff up to pad the story out. There was only one brief mention of an ‘Azog the Goblin’ in The Hobbit. Just once in one sentence.

So back to the film. Once you get past a bit of scene setting and Dwarf meeting. The song singing and plate throwing, we crack on with the adventure. A proper adventure, for children to be enthralled by, because the story is a children’s adventure story. People who review this movie in less than glowing terms  or regard it as a disappointment watched it like me, wearing the wrong eyes. They forgot how old they were when they read the book, if they ever did. If they didn’t read the book then they have no place reviewing the movie and making a judgement against the book.

I have consulted some parents who took children to see The Hobbit. The children loved it and can’t wait for the next film. I wondered how on earth they could make three films from such a small book but I’m glad they have. I was transported back to a happier time by watching The Hobbit. It’s a wonderful rollicking, rip-roaring, boisterous adventure story with magnificent scenery, fantastic, amazing characters and clever writing. Thoroughly entertaining from start to end if you are wearing the right eyes to watch it. The eyes of a child. Because the Hobbit is an adventure story for children and in my memory it’s the best ever adventure story for children. I’m very excited about seeing the next two films. I shall be nine years old to watch them.

Categories: Raves, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The truth about Dragons

Dragon ClawThis post is primarily intended as an educational resource for young people but clearly the information contained here is useful for adults as well.

I think it’s time to unveil my greatest secret. The thing that no-one but me knows. The thing that no-one knows about me. If you read my stuff regularly you will know I never write fiction. This is because I haven’t the imagination to make things up and write them down. I can only write my views on things I know, or think. So what follows may come as a surprise to you as you will think I’m making it up. I’m not and my challenge to you if you don’t believe me is to prove me wrong!

So, here goes. Nobody knows it but I’m actually the world’s foremost expert on the life of Dragons. When I say the world’s foremost expert, I’m the only person in the world who knows anything at all about the life of Dragons as everybody else believes they are fictitious creatures from myth and legend. Not a bit of it! There are Dragons alright and I’m going to let you into a few of the formally unknown facts about how Dragons affect all of us but the English and New Zealanders in particular.

Fact one. Dragons are invisible. All those pictures you see of Dragons are artist’s impressions; accepted thinking of what a Dragon might look like. Of course no-one has ever actually seen a Dragon. Well when I say no-one, that’s not strictly true. Pirates can see Dragons, but they never tell anyone outside the Pirate community as who would believe them? Everyone knows Pirates are thieves and liars, no point making things worse for themselves by telling how they can see dragons as well. Imagine?

No, so no-one except myself, and Pirates has ever seen a Dragon.  Not because they aren’t real, which they are, but because they are invisible. The Dragon is such a thing of visual horror that if you were able to see one you would go instantly insane from the shock of the sight of it. They have physical form of course but they are invisible by necessity. The reality though is that while Dragons are usually portrayed as being monstrous they are actually more given to being mischievous.

Fact Two. Dragons don’t breathe their own fire. That would be ridiculous. Like some wild thing has its own furnace inside? Utter nonsense. No Dragons have to go and get fire to carry around in a special pouch in their stomach. They get the fire from Volcanoes and when you see a Volcano erupting that’s just a Dragon stocking up on some new fire. They have a rummage about under the earth but because Dragons are so big they can make a bit of a mess with all the lava and smoke.

Fact Three. Dragons are responsible for climate change in general and most recently the terrible winter in England and the great drought in New Zealand in particular.  All that messing about under volcanoes by Dragons causes regular eruptions all over the world which is the real reason for climate change. Think about it. But while the climate change thing is a bit of a nuisance, the Dragons perform a vital service to the whole world by managing the Volcanoes. There hasn’t been a properly catastrophic eruption since Dragons figured out the best place to stock up on fire was inside a volcano. They relieve the build up of volcanic explosive pressure by taking Dragon sized helpings of the fire away every so often. So they do us a service you see. Remember that next time you hear of a Volcano erupting.

As helpful as that is, luckily there are only very few Dragons in existence. No-one is really sure how many, what with them being invisible. Well that and the fact that no-one believes in them except me. I can confirm that a Dragon caused the weird weather in New Zealand and England this year although the Kiwis are to blame indirectly. Here’s how.

Like every creature, Dragons continually evolve and a while ago the youngest Dragon evolved the ability to read. Like every young thing, he liked a good imaginative story so he read the Hobbit. He was horrified to learn his Uncle Smaug was portrayed as visible rather than invisible and monstrous instead of mischievous. He was very cross indeed.  Everybody knows New Zealand is really Middle Earth and the Hobbit is a true story. The young Dragon made his way to New Zealand. He had a bit of a stock up on some fire from the Volcanoes in the middle of the North Island. You’ll most likely remember the activity there recently? He was already cross enough with the vilification of his uncle Smaug in the Hobbit story but imagine how he felt when he learned the New Zealanders had made a documentary film featuring his poor uncle in an unflattering light, in New Zealand! He was enraged. It’s never clever to enrage a Dragon.

Like all Dragons he was mischievous though rather than monstrous but he felt some retribution, Dragon style, might be in order. He decided to breathe some of his fire on the place. Just to heat things up a little, make the Kiwis think a bit about the consequences of their actions. But being a young dragon his aim was very poor and he hit Australia instead. I did mention how very large Dragons are didn’t I? No harm done though as Australia is often on fire somewhere.

He was out of fire now but couldn’t be bothered having another rummage under the Volcanoes which is very tiring and messy. So he just flew about above New Zealand breathing out dry parched air all over the country for a while. Sometimes the clouds would arrive full of rain. He caught the rain in his cavernous mouth and took it away. He took it to England and spat it over the place from time to time. This was his punishment of the English for hatching the man who told the false story about his Uncle Smaug. He used water rather than fire as fire would look out of place in England and people would become suspicious of where it came from. Dragons aren’t stupid you know. Well of course you don’t know. Only I know.

So the poor Kiwis are suffering a terrible dry patch because they embraced the lies about the old Dragon Smaug. Quite simple when you know the true story.

I don’t want to give too much else away about Dragons as I don’t like them to know that I study them. They don’t like being studied and now the young one knows how to read it’s only a matter of time before he stumbles across my blog on the internet. I don’t want to be the harbinger of any sort of drought conditions in England. I would hate it if some mischievous young Dragon decided to take our very welcome rain and spit it out over New Zealand instead. Another final point you should know about Dragons is they can be a wee bit gullible if you catch them at the right time on a Sunday afternoon after they’ve had a nap.

So there you go.

Think I made all that up? Prove me wrong!

As foot note, but a very good one.

I actually have a piece of a Dragon from my Pirate ancestors. I and only I, apart from Pirates, know that if you cut something from a Dragon it becomes visible as it’s the Dragon that’s invisible not bits that fall off it. So cut some bit of a Dragon off and you can see it, naturally! My Great- Great grandfather (Sea Shack Sandy) was in the crows nest of his Pirate ship when a Dragon flew by and Sea Shack Sandy managed to cut off one of it’s claws with his sword. The claw fell to the deck of the Pirate ship. Sea Shack took the claw and put some carvings on it to mark it as his own. That claw is the only known piece of Dragon in existence. I still have it. That is the picture at the top of this story, a Dragon claw with Pirate carvings.

If you like your stories read to you, I’ve done that and there is an audio file of this as well. Just click the link below

The truth about Dragons (audio)

Categories: Beginners guides, General views | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

East Cape, revisited

Under the pier

Under the pier

This post is special. It’s about an amazing part of New Zealand. I wanted to get some proper images up of the location this story is about. It’s an incredible area and deserves to have some appropriate photography to show the place off properly, so I’ll pop a few among the words.

There is a phrase you hear from time to time when English people discuss New Zealand. I first heard it about 20 years ago when I arrived here and I still hear the exact same phrase now. ‘New Zealand is a bit like Britain 50 years ago’. That’s true in the respect that some New Zealand men in the countryside still routinely wear hats. Apart from that it is complete nonsense. New Zealand is a young and vibrant country largely full of friendly people with a can-do attitude. Two of the most common phrases in New Zealand are still, ‘no worries’ and ‘she’ll be right’. The purpose of this post is to talk about a couple of things that the guide books tend to gloss over. If you are actually from New Zealand you may see some of yourself and people you know in this, you will also learn something you most likely don’t know. If you are not from New Zealand, almost all of this will come as news to you as you will only know what you have read in books or seen on the television.

Te Uri

Hawkes Bay Boundary

I grew up in rural New Zealand. People who aren’t from rural New Zealand have no concept of how rural it is. Put it this way, when I was young and I’m sure it’s still the case now, when you were driving from one place to another in your local area, you would be able to identify the occupants of any passing vehicle by name. You recognise the cars, utes, or 4×4’s and you knew who was driving, chances are you could even identify which member of the family was at the wheel based on the way it was being driven. You knew old Bruce from the valley road crawled along at snail’s pace admiring his neighbour’s livestock, no not in that way! While his wife flew along in a trail of dust like her hair was on fire.

If you saw your mate or neighbour coming towards you and you had time, you’d pull up alongside each other in the middle of the road and have a yarn for a while. Talk about the weather mostly, for ages. No-one else was coming that way today. If you had pressing issues somewhere else and you recognise the car but can’t stop, you raise your fingers off the steering wheel in a sort of wave, but your palm stays resting on top of the wheel.

Your elbow is out the window and you are driving with one hand.

All Kiwi blokes have two tone arms. One is browner than the other. It’s the driver’s window arm. If you see a car you don’t recognise, you only raise one finger, or maybe two if you are in a good mood, of your hand briefly off the steering wheel in a sort of mini salute, ‘I see you, I know you aren’t from around here but hello anyway’.

Te Uri Road

Te Uri Road

As a visitor to New Zealand, if you get off the main roads taking you to and from your next incredible bit of scenery, or tourist destination, you will remark time and time again until you get used to it. ‘There is nobody here!’ This is because there are only the people who live there, not many of them, and their movements to and from home and an irregular visit the local small town, nobody else comes by from one year to the next. There is nobody about in very large chunks of the country. You want peace and quiet? That’s where it is.

When I joined the army, having spent all my early driving days with one arm out the window it came as quite a shock that we were not allowed to put our arms out the window when driving. Unprofessional or something! What on earth do you do with it if you can’t rest it on the window sill? They might as well have chopped it off altogether!

I’m pretty sure all young Kiwi soldiers have bruised right elbows from smacking them on a closed window for about the whole of their first year. Many of the guys in my unit in the Army were from what we call the East Coast.

What we know as ‘The East Coast’ to give it the proper name is East Cape. It’s the part of New Zealand north of Gisborne and it’s one of the most amazing places in the whole country, but nobody goes up there. When I say nobody, some intrepid trippers might drive from Gisborne in Poverty Bay to Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, but bugger all do. You want to know why?

Because it’s bloody miles! It’s beautiful, rustic, remote, wild, stunning, spiritual, incredible and historical.

It is the New Zealand of 50 years ago and then some. Nowhere else in New Zealand is like it.

The road to Gisborne

I said it’s bloody miles and nobody goes there but, how far? Ok, big picture! Let’s say you have more time than the usual tourist who visits New Zealand and you get across to Hawkes Bay to have a crack at some of the tremendous wines. You’ll head for Napier and the Heretaunga Plains. It’s brilliant there, you’ll have a lovely time and head south for Wellington when you’ve finished.

No-one has suggested you head North up the East Cape instead and besides you haven’t the time. You need to head for the South Island to look at some mountains and rivers. Let’s say you did consult a map though and looked north to East Cape. It’s 3 hours drive from Napier to Gisborne! East Cape is way beyond it and nobody told you anything about it, why on earth would you head that way? Because it’s incredible! You get to Gisborne and you’ll think you are at the end of the world. You look at a Map and the journey around to Whakatane and civilisation again is a full days driving if you want to stop and look at anything and once you get going you’ll want to stop and look at everything! The coast is beautiful, the beaches inviting. The little coastal towns, extraordinary.

Tolaga Bay Pier

Tolaga Bay Pier

At Tolaga Bay is the most incredible jetty, huge great big thing stretching away out into the bay.  600 Metres in fact. Massive! In the old days, you couldn’t get the farm produce from the cape out by road so it had to go by sea. The only place a ship could get near enough to shore was at Tolaga Bay but it’s quite shallow, so the jetty had to go way out to into the bay. It’s the most amazing sight. It’s the biggest jetty of it’s type in the Southern Hemisphere and now people just fish from it.

 

Further up the coast is Tokomaru Bay.

The place is pretty much all boarded up as commerce dried up and the rural Maori who lived here moved away to the cities. It’s like a ghost town, very sad but there is a pub away at the end of the bay you’ll stop for a lunch at, watch a couple of Maori blokes wading on the little reef with their paua sacks getting some seafood ‘for a feed’.

Tokomaru Bay

Tokomaru Bay

Not far beyond Tokomaru Bay is the country town of Ruatoria, just off the main road. Go and get a pie and some L&P from the Four Square store. Stand in the middle of the main street because you can, you’ll think you’ve been transported back in time. I’m pretty sure the pub in town still has a hitching post outside. The blokes who drink in the pub are foresters, pig hunters, shearers, farm hands, musterer’s and the like. Back country people, Maori mostly.

The East Cape is a predominantly Maori tribal area. There are many places up here of great spiritual significance to the Maori people. You’ll see Mt Hikurangi in the distance which according to Maori mythology was the first part of the North Island to emerge when Maui pulled it as a giant fish from the ocean. The legend of Maui is fundamental to Maori mythology and it’s a major part of our cultural heritage. Learn the story if you don’t know it.

Mt Hikurangi, East Cape

Mt Hikurangi, East Cape

Hitting the road again, which you’ll mostly have to yourself. You head for Hicks Bay, pretty much the Eastern most point of New Zealand. Stand up there somewhere and look out across the Pacific Ocean. Next stop? South America. It’s quite an experience. Just around the corner is Lottin point, which has proper Deep Ocean just off the rocks somehow. It offers some of the best land based fishing anywhere. The water is so clear you can actually see very large game fish in the sea below your feet. Like nowhere else on earth.

Once you’ve passed Lottin Point you are on the run down to Whakatane. Many pretty bays, interesting villages and places to stop and snoop, but it’s the run from Gisborne up to Lottin Point where the real history, culture and scenery lies.  You’ll be pleased to get to Whakatane and get some sleep. You’ll remember that trip round the cape for the rest of your life.

Road tripLet me give you the dream road trip itinerary from a place you will have heard of, Rotorua.

Instead of following the tourists north or south, do this!

Rotorua to Wairoa, through the Urewera National Park. Take some time to walk in the bush and see the lakes.

Lake Waikaremoana, Te Urewera National Park

Lake Waikaremoana, Te Urewera National Park

 

That’s a day trip, find somewhere nice to stay that’s not in Wairoa.  When you see Wairoa you’ll see why I say that.

Wairoa to Hicks Bay, another day trip given all the things you’ll want to stop and look at. When you get to the Hicks Bay Motel and wonder out loud at the incredible scenery. Ask the motel owner why he still isn’t making the most of it and tell him how a window works better than a wall. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.

Day three is back to Whakatane and peel off back towards Rotorua and Taupo if you are going south or Tauranga if you’re heading north.

You should make that trip. You will have a better life because you did. I think the East Cape is by some margin the best part of New Zealand that the least people visit. Almost no-one goes up there. Most kiwis have never been up there and that is a travesty. Go and visit the East Cape and wave at every single person you see, you won’t see many and they will all wave back.

This final image is of Sunset at Mahia by an old School friend of mine, Stuart Brown who still farms near Dannevirke where I grew up after we moved south from Mahia Penisula.  Mahia Peninsula is where Hawkes Bay Meets Poverty Bay, which is where the East Cape essentially starts.Image courtesy of my friend Stuart Brown

Categories: New Zealand, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A look to the West

Gate It seems there is a bit of a travel theme setting in to the blog now, this is, what, Three in a row? My blog isn’t a travel blog but I do like to be at leisure rather than at work. It’s probably not just me. If I’ve got a long weekend, which we just had it being Easter and everything, I might as well go for an adventure somewhere. When I say adventure, that’s just my own phrase for going somewhere, anywhere. It makes going places sound more adventurous.

I went to Cornwall ages ago and wrote a brief thing about how I wasn’t all that keen on visiting Cornwall again. I briefly touched on the alternative which is better. Here I’m going to elaborate on that a bit. I’m going to have a more in-depth look at the place near Cornwall which is better, and less far. Devon.

Widecombe smallYou hear many people waxing lyrical on the delights of Cornwall and I was pleased to go and have a look at the place. My conclusion was that I wouldn’t go there again on purpose. Cornwall has lots of little bays and coves with precariously perched quaint villages nestled here and there. The villages all look much the same and all the shops sell the same stuff. Fudge, pirate related souvenirs, fairies, pixies and dragons and some light fishing equipment. Some more fudge and a bit of ice-cream you will briefly enjoy before a local seagull has it straight out of your hand. Each little village is heaving with people traipsing from shop to shop, buying more ice-cream to have stolen by seagulls.

Cornwall is too far and too full of people on family holidays who can’t afford to go somewhere nice or don’t know where is nicer, luckily I do. Devon is. They drove straight past it to get to Cornwall and more fool them.Dartmoor Pony,

Devon has an enormous national park right in the middle of it called Dartmoor. Dartmoor is one of my favourite places in all of England. It’s just 3 hours’ drive from my place in the Home Counties and offers splendid isolation.  There are vast sweeping tracts of beautiful moorland to wander across at your leisure. You’ll see small hairy ponies to say hello to here and there. Some bits of ancient history dotted about the landscape for no good reason that you can ponder at. Many moody streams and rivers, woodlands that look like something from a fairy tale. You expect goblins or trolls to live under the old stone bridges. Bridge

Moor I’m sure it gets quite busy during ‘holiday season’ But guess what? You can go anytime as it’s not very far. If you want to get away from the coach parties of walkers there are dozens of lanes with the reassuring ‘not suitable for HGV’ signs.

You’ll find somewhere down that lane to park up and wander off into the wilderness, walk as far as you can or dare to.

You’ll see wildlife, great vistas of wild rugged moorland that the person who has a stereotype of England in their mind would not expect to see. The light changes and alters the image of the landscape in moments. It’s a photographers dream. Here and there are little villages, they’ll offer you a licenced premises or two to get a hearty meal before you continue on your mini adventure, and it feels like a proper adventure as well.

Dartmoor is North of Plymouth which is not a terribly attractive city. I believe it was bombed heavily in the war but there is some history down at the waterfront to go and see. The Pilgrims left for the new world from Plymouth remember? Something like that anyway. Seems they fancied America more than Britain. They’d probably got sick of having to go to Cornwall on holiday.

Noss MayoJust up the coast to the north of Plymouth are a number of very pretty seaside villages and towns, just as precariously perched as they are in Cornwall but the shops sell nice things and all the people you don’t want to bump into are a good distance away, in Cornwall. The very lovely pair of towns, Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers probably don’t even have a shop selling fudge and I didn’t notice any seagulls with an ice-cream fetish. They sit opposite an inlet with some attractive boats parked, or moored, as people who spend time on the water like to call parking their boats. From Noss Mayo you can walk alongside the inlet admiring the view until you veer left through some trees and find yourself wandering along a wild headland. The English Channel meets the Celtic Sea right out there in front of you. You can see seabirds wheeling above the waves, no ice cream out there, just fish. You can see fishing boats out in the open ocean. You may even see large sea life, seals, dolphins, even a whale if you are very lucky. But what you can see all the time is the ocean, for miles. It’s crashing on the rocks away down below where you are walking. We walked for four and a half miles all the way around the headland back to Noss Mayo and had the entire place to ourselves. In Devon. Ocean

Once you’ve had enough exercise and I’d had enough at about two miles, you can pop down to another of the bigger towns along the coast. Towns like Salcombe, or Dartmouth. Salcombe at first glance looks just as fetching as any Cornish town. Coloured houses crammed onto the cliffs and steep hills. A little high street running alongside the sea. Then you notice the big difference from the Cornish towns. The shops are full of nice things rather than poor quality pirate and fairy related souvenirs. There is much clothing for the fans of maritime pursuits, or those who wish to look as though they are. Some expensive home wares with a nautical theme. A few smart Delicatessens and sweet shops. Nice pubs and high quality fish and chips here and there.

IMG_2045The people around you are not noisy families with poorly behaved children crying over a stolen ice-cream. The hordes from somewhere like Dudley in the Midlands. No, the people walking about here have driven down from the Home Counties, probably in a Range Rover with a black Labrador called Dudley. Salcombe is very pleasant indeed and significantly less far than somewhere worse in Cornwall. You can stay here of course which I am sure is a great spot to spend a weekend or so but I prefer the wilds of the moor with a visit to the seaside out of interest. Staying somewhere you can see the sea lends large sums to the cost of the accommodation. Everyone knows that. No, I’ll stay somewhere up on Dartmoor where I can see the sea in the distance, because you can but you don’t pay the premium for proximity to an ocean or watercourse.

There is much more to Devon of course but I’ve not even been to the North Devon Coast yet. I have it on good authority that part is also nicer than Cornwall, I know it’s nearer and that’s a good start. I’ll let you know when I go.

I’ve come up with a catchy slogan for Devon actually, simple and true. I should write slogans for a living!

Devon, it’s nearer and nicer than Cornwall.  Stream small

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On getting robbed in Italy

WaterfrontThis is going to be something like a travel essay. I had to look up what an essay actually was though. For your information in case you don’t know either, it’s a ‘short piece of writing on a particular subject’.

So that’s easy!  The subject of this short piece of writing is a weekend break to the Italian Riviera and some observations on Italy in general.

The Italian Riviera, or Ligurian Riviera as it’s also known, seeing as we are defining things, is ‘the narrow coastal strip which lies between the Ligurian Sea and the mountain chain formed by the Maritime Alps and the Apennines’. That description makes it sound less interesting and more geological than just ‘The Italian Riviera’ which sounds terribly romantic.Portofino

I’ll pop a few photos among the words to make you jealous as well as you probably haven’t been there but wish you could go. You should make some arrangements to do that. I’m hopefully not going to talk you out of it here.

Firstly in order to spend time on ‘The Italian Riviera’ one must make their way to the North of Italy. If you have read any of my work you’ll know my preferred continental destination is France. I understand some people are big fans of Italy. I’m not usually. If I have to make a choice between the two I will always choose France for reasons that will become more obvious as we progress with my essay.

So getting to the North of Italy. The most logical destination to start a long weekend on ‘The Italian Riviera’ is Genoa. From here you can head up or down the coast to your resort or town or village of your choice. Getting from my place to Genoa requires the services of an aeroplane. The British Airways flight to Genoa leaves from London Gatwick Airport. Gate 109 at the North Terminal last time I looked. Gatwick Airport is in West Sussex and gate 109 is somewhere at the far end of Kent or so it seemed given the distance you walk from check in to your flight. Sadly before you can start your expedition to your aeroplane you have to get undressed in front of uniformed strangers wielding long handled ping pong bats.

This is because the world is now frightened that some of the disaffected youth of Mesopotamia may wish to hijack our aeroplanes using a large bottle of shampoo and some nail scissors. We fear that once they have taken charge of the aeroplane by aggressive use of personal grooming items they will then offer to fly us into a tall building to convince others of the benefits of their choice of religion. It’s all very tedious.

However, despite this we find ourselves magically transported to Genoa Airport from where we will make our way to our personal choice of accommodation for the weekend which was the splendid seaside town of Rapallo. This is where we start to remember why I prefer France to Italy. There is a train that runs from a station very near Genoa Airport, all the way down to Rapallo which is about 45 minutes down the line. The station is near, but not so near you would choose to walk. So you engage the services of one of the many taxis available to you at the airport. You ask to be taken to the station by name. After a few minutes or so you will notice he is taking you to another station much further away and you will advise him accordingly. He will feign misunderstanding and drive you at great speed back to where you wanted to be in the first place. The taxi meter will say 10 Euro’s but he will demand 20 for a trip which in London’s black cabs would have cost about a fiver.

The Italian Taxi driver would appear to be a great student of history and his favourite historical character is the ‘Highwayman’.  Get into an Italian Taxi and the term ‘highway robbery’ will never be more appropriate or experienced more often. You should see the list of extra tariffs they have on top of the fare on the meter. I didn’t see it but I’m sure one of them is an extra charge for doing up your seatbelt, which is for sissies.

TrainHaving finished the argument with your highwayman and taken the short journey on a train which feels and looks like a relic from the cold war you arrive at your destination station.

There will be some more taxis. You will be asked to pay 15 Euros for a run to your hotel that should have cost 2.50. It’s ok though, you are on holiday and you enjoy engaging in the local culture.

As a pause for reflection, I wanted to have a quick word on Italian men for no particular reason.  It’s just an observation but I get the distinct impression that Italian men actually worship their women rather than treating them more as potential mistress material or lack of it as the French seem to do. I’m generalising of course but women run Italy. The home, the family is so important and the women are in charge. It’s a matriarchal society whereas France is more Patriarchal. The Italian men seem genuinely reverential to the women they meet and interact with whereas your Frenchman seems either overly flirtatious or dismissive depending on his interest or lack of it in the woman he is addressing. Your thoughts on this?

Shop windowSeeing as we are on holiday in Italy we are going to be eating out a bit obviously and that usually results in some exposure to food. You will most likely find the food available in resort destinations somewhat poor value for money. You will end up paying more than you wanted or expected to for no good reason. French food is better than Italian food. It seems all Italian restaurants have the same stuff on the menu. I’m sure there are regional differences but that just seems to be in respect to what the sauce consists of. The food is pasta, pizza and sauce based meat dishes. There is much tomato in evidence and also pesto. Lots of tomato and pesto.

French food is better. French bread is better. French wine is better. The choice is greater. The restaurants are better value. The Italians always seem to have a hidden charge or extra cost stuffed up their sleeves that they break out when they see a tourist approaching. I never feel that way in France.  In Italy there is a constant niggling feeling that you are being robbed at every turn. A plate of fish that should have cost 10 Euros becomes 25 because the waiter said you should try it with this or that extra ingredient. He never mentions that it will double the price of the fish but you discover this to be the case when the bill arrives. You’ve just been robbed again. I don’t like feeling robbed when I go on holiday and I’m pretty savvy so I’d hate to think what they do to the gullible. Gate

Enough negativity though, forewarned is forearmed. Assume you will be misled and lied to, over charged and misinformed about most things by people selling you stuff or taking you places and you’ll do fine. The Italians are very friendly though. Lovely people! I like the Italians; I just don’t like being shafted at every turn when I have to open my wallet to pay for things which is what it always feels like.

What is there to do here? Walk, eat, drink, walk, wander, meander, and malinger even if you wish. The place is a visual feast. The architecture is completely amazing; the contrast between derelict grandeur and ornate magnificence is striking in places. So much of the area looks like it is something from a painting or about to become one. You will want to make an effort to dress up just to go for a walk along the sea front in the evening before you retire to a bar looking out upon the Mediterranean Sea.

Beer

The high cliffs with massive houses almost carved into them. The great grand seafront hotels. Little bays full of brightly coloured tall houses perched in a row and right on the sea. Cliff House

The wheeling seabirds above or the flocks of them keeping each other company on some fishing boat that hasn’t been used since last season. There is nothing obvious to do here but shop, walk and shop a bit more. Move on the next impossibly pretty town or village and do it again. Walk the cliff tops or waterfront from one to the other. You are just looking at stuff if you are me. Soaking up the amazing visuals and watching the interesting people go by. Seagulls

The shopping though, isn’t just some tourist tat, there is that but so many shops full of lovely things as well.Down in the tiny village of Portofino are the most extraordinary array of high end fashion shops for example.Gucci, Puccini, and Hermes among others, each have their own store in what is a tiny old fishing village. But one of such beauty and style they don’t look out of place at all.Quite the opposite! The place is as I said, extraordinary.

Super Yacht

When we were there some Billionaire’s super yacht was parked off shore and we watched the tender bringing a few people from it in to Portofino for lunch. One of the very biggest super yachts in the whole world, just there, for lunch, amazing!

All too soon it’s time to put away the beautiful history and make the return journey to real life.

Most likely having a couple of arguments along the way with a highwayman or two.

In no time you are back home where you mostly get what you pay for, but in less fabulous surroundings.

Rapallo 075

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The games boys play

Grampie2I have friends who have boys. Young men, little chaps, whatever they call male children. It appears there is no consensus but little bastards seems a common description as well. My friends with boys often bemoan the amount of time boys spend on computer games or engrossed in an internet based interaction or a mobile communication device. Inside stuff predominantly. They seem keen the boys would get outside more. Maybe engage some other boys in games in a park or something. This is what city people or townsfolk do when they play outside. Ball games in a park. That is a little limited in the imagination in my view. It made me cast my mind back to how we amused ourselves outside when we were a bit younger. I’m pretty sure if modern parents from suburban environments discovered what we got up to out there they would be encouraging their little treasures back inside fairly sharply. I’m going to have a quick look at the games boys play, or once did anyway.

Most games didn’t have any great structure. They were often made up on the spot based on the numbers of other children in the vicinity. Given my brothers and I lived a fairly remote existence we usually only had each other to amuse, or attempt to harm. If the community got together for a gathering during daylight hours the play could be more elaborate. For example in the annual ‘North versus South’ Cricket contest where the divide between north and south in our district was a creek. The men would play cricket in a field while the wives chatted on an embankment. The kids would head down to the creek to assemble in two teams of similar numbers on either side of the water and have what was called a ‘dirt fight’. The rules were quite simple, throw clumps of dirt or mud fashioned into a projectile at each other. There were usually dogs frolicking and hunting among us and almost without fail they would discover a possum in the surrounding trees. The dirt fight would be abandoned and the boys would then make weapons out of sticks and whatever else they could find to hand. They would scale the trees to try to find and kill the possum but they were never successful to my knowledge. What they always ended up as though was filthy with ripped clothing. Mum’s loved that.

This brings me neatly on to the other favourite pastime of young chaps in rural New Zealand. Possum hunting. We all had firearms at an early age. Rifles in a .22 calibre usually. You can’t really hunt a possum with anything else. While your parents watched the television you would go out into the wilderness in the dark, with just a torch and your trusty dog to search for possums. Possums live in trees and make quite the screeching and coughing sound at night. You can see their eyes shining in the torchlight but if you are on your own it’s actually quite hard to aim a rifle with two hands and hold a torch in a non- existent third hand, so you have to improvise. Luckily a .22 is not a heavy rifle so you can hold it in one hand and shine the torch down the barrel through the sights at the possum in the tree with the other. So there you are, a teenaged boy, somewhere in the wilderness, holding and shooting a rifle into the dark with one hand. Still want us to go outside and play?

Some might not think play and firearms make a great combination. Nonsense, they are a tremendous combination as long as you have the correct firearm and the proper safety equipment. One of the favoured games of boys in the country was simply called ‘war’. “Let’s go and play war” we would say to each other. This primarily involved one or two boys heading off into the wilds to hide while the other boys would head out and hunt them. The object was to kill each other. Not literally of course. But you had guns fashioned from wood and probably a sword as well for close quarter combat. You would ideally sneak up on your brother or friend and get close enough to point your wooden weapon at him to loudly announce a successful shot. Or you might find yourself out of ammo so you had to charge his position with your sword to engage him in a hand to hand battle to the death. The death-throws usually being accompanied by sound effects gleaned from a ‘Commando’ war comic.MercyForNone

Or you could put on a surplus army great coat and a motorcycle crash helmet and hunt each other with air-rifles. Which is significantly more fun than a pretend wooden rifle, but more painful when you get actually shot. It does lend quite a sense of realism to the hunting and hiding though. Much more fun that way.

Sometimes you had to engage in solitary pursuits. This might involve making a very dangerous and effective bow and arrow combination from some shrubbery and hunting members of the local wildlife community. You would use your ‘sheath knife’ to whittle the points on the arrows. The sheath knife is sometimes issued to a boy in rural New Zealand on his 13th Birthday, well mine was anyway. It’s usually a very large, very sharp and very dangerous multi-purpose knife you wear on your belt in a leather sheath, hence ‘sheath knife’. I have an impressive scar on my hand from misusing mine one day. Every boy should have a proper scar somewhere. 

You could always take your rifle and your trusty dog to go in search of rabbits. None of that shotgun nonsense they like to shoot running rabbits with in England. This is your .22 and you are stalking rabbits. Sneaking up on them and shooting at them from the prone position because they aren’t really rabbits at all. They are enemy snipers lying in wait and all you can see is their grey or brown helmet, shaped like a rabbit. Whichever way you look at it though, it’s a teenage boy walking about in the countryside looking for things to shoot at with a proper firearm that can cause actual death to people some distance away should they be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mums love that stuff. As an aside mums often also cut their sons hair, usually very badly, didn’t they mum?

EelIf you enjoy a spot of fishing as your preferred method of play, you can take a very sharp object on a spike and search for eels while wading in a remote watercourse. The depth and flow of the river or creek can be deceptive and you will often fall in or find yourself suddenly waist or chest deep with no-one to help you. It’s ok though, it’s just water and you probably won’t get hypothermia on your long walk home in your sodden clothing (with a challenging haircut)

Ball games in parks were for weekends, structured play and not at all for fun. The other stuff outside with guns and war, mud and water is fun. Rugby is a ball game in a park in town at the weekend and it’s very serious indeed. That’s why the New Zealand All Blacks are the ‘All Blacks’. Rugby is not just a game of ‘rugger’, which is a word I hate anyway, for boys. You take time out from playing games to play Rugby which is a completely different thing to playing games. There is a famous quotation, which I have modified a bit to illustrate this.

It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game, …say losers”.

Now back to boys playing games.

Dotted around New Zealand farms are Hay Barns. They are full of several tons of hay. What is fun to do is to rearrange the hay bales to make forts and tunnels. You can make disguised crevasses and man traps for unsuspecting intruders upon your fortress to plunge into. You take a very well stacked large quantity of animal food and make it into an obstacle course and death trap for young boys, for fun. It’s a great day out making the Hay Barn into a proper fort on a life size scale. Much better than a pretend miniature fort made out of Lego.

So parents of boys of today, your sons may indeed be quite digitally dextrous which is an important skill in the modern era but I reckon we had a bit more fun back in those days and hardly any of us got maimed or killed or worse. Still want to send them outside though?

Have fun..

If you prefer to hear things being read out rather than reading it. You could listen to this audio file.

Click on the phone!

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Categories: New Zealand, Raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Who knew?

WAAMIf you look up from this and look around you, you will notice quite quickly that the world about you is not a barren dusty wasteland with self-replicating Amoebas as the only life form. If you are able to see out of a window, you will most likely spot some shrubbery in various shapes and sizes. Possibly one or two members of the local wildlife community and perhaps even some people other than yourself and your own reflection.

All this life and biology is because of a successful interaction in a reproductory manner, by a male and a female of a species, any species, all species, except for Amoebae (which is the correct plural) who sort themselves out. From a blade of grass to the top of the food chain there has been some male on female and vice versa jiggery-pokery going on in a basic or sophisticated manner. This interaction is what is required to keep planets such as ours from being barren dusty wastelands populated only by Amoebae. So the male and the female of the species, whichever species, have to figure out how each other’s bits work to make little members of the same species. They have to understand each other a little bit at the very least and most basic level. Which is fine and good but that’s not really what this is about if you are growing concerned at where this story is heading, it’s just background, relax.

Let’s park the participants in Biology further down the food chain than humans though and have a look at us and how we interact. The purpose of this post is to draw your attention to a little discussed and largely secret issue about the way men and woman understand each other that only really occurred to me this week. Well when I say men and women, I mean men, not all men, men like me. Men who grew up without a Sister.

You would be amazed, maybe, at what sisterless chaps don’t know about girls. No-one knows what we don’t or didn’t know, because we never mention it as we assume it’s a reality because we don’t know any better and there is no-one to tell us as they aren’t mind readers. So the stuff we don’t know, or incorrectly think, goes unchallenged and uncorrected until discovered purely by chance! You wait until you find out what I thought, and apparently it’s not just me. So here goes. Are we sitting comfortably?

Firstly though, as a young chap without a sister, when you first mingle with girl’s socially outside school and you wish to impress them. You have absolutely no idea how to go about that. You have very limited understanding of what goes on inside a girls head in their spare time. You don’t see them interacting with their friends outside school. You have no idea what they might actually like or not on their own terms when they are not acting up for their friends at school You don’t see the emotional fall out from a conversation gone wrong or otherwise.

Woman-Whispering-Into-Mans-Ear1-300x170The chap with sisters knows all this stuff. When you go to the school dance the chap with sisters will know some of the girls socially as they might be friends or otherwise of his sister. They will have been to his house. He can blithely say hello to the girls. If you have no sister, you have none of that. You have to trudge the floor in front of everyone to engage the female of the species that you have no understanding of firstly in a conversation and ideally in a dance without a clue how to go about it. Your first few attempts will result in dismal failure and ridicule by your peers. It is a nightmare for a young chap to endure. But that’s fine as in the long term you figure it out or you become a social recluse.

It’s the other stuff we sisterless blokes don’t know that seems to cause a great deal of amusement when we reveal it later in life in an unguarded moment. Are we ready? Some of this information is a little, base, so apologies for that. I shall be as careful as I can in my descriptions to avoid ones blushes.

Girls, or women if you prefer, have a couple of things as a part of their life that we blokes do not. We sisterless blokes it seems have been labouring under a bit of a misconception about them which may come as a surprise to the women in our lives.

The ‘monthly cycle’ for example.  Like all blokes I was aware of its existence. I also was very familiar with the accompanying complaints and related products available in retail outlets as the standard method of dealing with the ‘monthly cycle’. They are called tampons and there are varying brands available. They come in a range of sizes, mini, regular, super, maxi, etc. However, only very recently did I discover that the size description was in relation to ‘flow and absorbency’ rather than, ahem, size.

SuddenOh yes, I used to watch girls buying tampons in shops, in the queue with their super-sized tampons and draw some rather unfortunate conclusions. I often wondered why they weren’t more secretive about it. I’m not making that up. I admitted it in an embarrassed manner for comedy purposes on a social media outlet recently assuming it was just me being an ignorant bumpkin and another chap around my age admitted. “Well I’ve just learned something new”. Not just me then.

l-3So there you go girls. A whole bunch of chaps are making assumptions about you based upon what you carry to the checkout! There will be girls all over the world not being asked out on dates by the man of their dreams because he didn’t have a sister and he spotted them shopping one day!

Moving on to the smear test. It wasn’t until I actually asked a woman, not all that long ago, that I found out a smear test is a rather inaccurate description. I always assumed and why would I think otherwise, that a smear test was like a bit of litmus paper being applied to the area. I had no idea it was actually more like a pair of steel salad spoons on a ratchet. It’s called a smear test!! Imagine my surprise. Imagine her surprise when she saw my surprise.

If you are a lady reading this are you surprised I didn’t know? How would I know? I don’t have smear tests! Are we supposed to say to our female partners, ‘so how was the smear test then?’’ What did he actually do?’ No of course that conversation never takes place. So we think it’s a bit of a swipe with some medical paper or something and a cheery wave.  Our other halves think we are being dismissive and unsympathetic, not a bit of it; we are being very ignorant instead. That’s sort of better when you think about it.

You women are going to look at us chaps a bit differently now aren’t you? It’s good to learn stuff.

So sisters, educate your brothers for their own sakes.  Tell them to tell their friends what they know. We could all get on so much better, sooner.  The world will continue to be a wonderful diverse place full of colour and new life. Rather than at risk of being a dusty barren wasteland populated only by Amoebae, which is less good. It kind of brings a whole new dimension to ‘show and tell’.

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Categories: Beginners guides, General views | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

On France

IBoulangerieI live about two hours from France as the crow flies, to coin an expression. I think that would be a particularly fast flying Crow given how fast I usually drive. But the reality is that from my house to the Channel Tunnel is about an hour and a half’s drive. It occurred to me that I should do a little piece on France as some of my regular readers, yes, regular, possibly haven’t been to France. France is the world’s biggest tourist destination, which makes it sound terribly busy but if you discount the Japanese visiting Paris I think this number would reduce dramatically. People tend to refer to the French using somewhat scornful language which is understandable if you don’t know much about them.

The French stick up for their Frenchness though and that’s OK. A ‘France first and to hell with you’ sort of thing, which is OK. It is after all their country and if you spend a bit of time in France you come to realise that actually they have much to be ‘to hell with you’ about. Except they are not ‘to hell with you’ the French are quite a friendly bunch if you approach them on their terms, which is only fair. It’s their country.

So, to France. We take the Channel Tunnel, there are also ferry crossings in abundance from the UK but I have no idea why anyone would choose them over the tunnel. You can get sea sick or you can drive your car onto a shuttle transporter thing then sit in your car and play games on your tablet for half an hour. After half an hour of not being sea sick you drive off the shuttle transporter thing into France, where the roads are magically turned into smooth expressways shaming anything in Britain. The surfaces of French highways are actually amazing. I believe they are made from a combination of tarmac, rubber and carpet.

I’m not going to do a detailed tour guide to France as that would be ridiculous, this will be more observation, what the casual observer might like to know they will notice should they find themselves in a nice French city for a weekend. Like Lille for example. We go to Lille a bit, because it’s very nice. It’s only an hour and a quarter from the Channel Tunnel exit.

I believe all major cities in France have had their entire below the ground bit excavated to make the world’s biggest car parks. The excavated earth was probably used to make the Alps. There is a car park in Chartes for example, so vast that the exit is possibly in Belgium. Once you’ve sussed this out you drive the car a few miles around the car park and try to navigate to the exit nearest your hotel. You then emerge at street level into all the Frenchness. When you drive across France and into a city you pass through the crappy suburbs full of tower blocks, industrial estates and retail parks into the small city centre. All city centres in France are small. Even downtown Paris is small. You can walk around all of it. As an aside despite what the movies suggest, you cannot see the Eiffel Tower from every hotel room window in Paris.

IMG_1135But we are in Lille, not Paris. Once you’ve navigated to the hotel and dumped your gear, you hit the streets to look in some shops and sit in a wicker chair or two. The first thing you notice about the French people in French cities is that almost all of them are better looking and better dressed than you. In the countryside it is the opposite. No disrespect to the rural French but the word ‘peasant’ is still a relevant description in a disturbingly large number of cases.

The French get dressed up to go out. You will see ladies in fur, men with cravats, Everyone’s hair is immaculate, and they even still make smoking a cigarette look classy.

Bag

 

When you pop into a shop, every single thing in the shops looks expensive, most of it is. But you don’t mind because of the way it has been displayed and the beauty of the female shop assistant. The female shop assistants make chaps go a little giddy. All of them. There is clearly a very strict vetting procedure for French female shop assistants and it begins at the Miss World contest. They will also wear tight frocks or trousers and blouses with plunging necklines. You never know quite where to look, well you do actually.

When you have purchased your beautiful expensive thing from the beautiful shop assistant she will wrap it for you. Not just some tissue paper and a plastic bag though, she will WRAP it for you. It is an art form and what you are handed after you’ve parted with your money looks too good to open. It is a visual feast of expensive paper and ribbons. It looks like a fabulous gift even if it’s just a sandwich or a box of tissues. After this you need a drink.

IMG_1149The signs on the good bars are all cool and often retro, Art Nouveau or Art Deco. IMG_1165

 

 

 

 

 

The little tables around which are perched the wicker chairs will have a stylish advertising message in them from the 1930’s probably. The waiter carries a tray covered in exotic looking drinks, not just wine and beer. The French huddle, smoking and chatting animatedly or lounging languidly, often wearing some sort of scarf. The French are fans of scarves. There is much gesticulation, hand gestures with a cigarette between the fingers casually waving in the air to dismiss an argument or poked repeatedly to make a point. They all look cool. The waiter seems to walk just above ground level, so fluid is his; it’s usually a chap, movement. He sweeps from table to table, putting down drinks, picking up empties, taking orders all at the same time, usually not writing anything down, he wears an apron. So you sit there at your little table in your wicker chair with your beer and a glass of kir for the lady. You gaze around the ‘Grand Place’ you have stopped at and admire the whole spectacle. If it is summertime the air is warm and the living actually does look easy. If it is winter, it will be dark and all the incredible architecture is lit up and looks amazingly atmospheric. It’s dinner time in Lille.Opera

restaurant-paix-3There are so many places to eat in France you’ll wonder how you ever choose which one you should choose. We tend to go French funnily enough. I don’t see the point in going to France and eating Thai food. So we like to go traditional French, brasserie. The classic French restaurant will have banquette seating down the outside walls, tables for two side by side. There are far more waiters than you would expect to see. They all wear aprons, big ones, with the classic white shirt and black trousers combo. They give the waitresses shirts two sizes too small. You sit remarkably close to the other diners each side of you which wouldn’t really work anywhere else.

But somehow it does here. The meal is an occasion and you should eat in company, so you do. The thing with France though is that the diners each side of you will probably interact with you, just a little bit, look at your food, you look at theirs, you share some comment on the quality and smile. When the meal is over the French people you have eaten with, yet not eaten with, will wish you ‘bon soir’ as they leave. They will actually mean it. The French are friendly, if you are friendly to them.

Contrary to popular myth the waiters are not rude if you show them respect. They are not just waiters in France; they are the keepers and bringers of the biggest part of the day. When the French get together to eat and enjoy the trappings of the life they know and they know it best. Their country is fabulous. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you. They want you to enjoy France and for you to see the best of it. Learn and embrace the meaning of joie de vivre. The French do.

As a foot note, if you do suffer any inconvenience in France, make sure you apologize!

Apologize

Categories: Raves, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Carrot or stick?

insultingIt was the BAFTA’s last night, or the Stephen Fry show depending upon how you look at it. Lots of thespians getting gongs for being fabulous. There was much gushing and eye wiping and a wonderful night was had by all. Well except those who didn’t get to stand on stage to gush over a ‘death mask on a stick’ as Billy Connolly put it. Recognition for your efforts was the theme of the evening, as is every awards ceremony and awards ceremonies for those being awarded are the highlight of the year, or their life, depending on how many awards the awarded usually wins.  I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that all of those people in that building do what they do so well or otherwise out of a desire for recognition of success rather than out of fear of being punished for failure.

Herein lies the theme of today’s post. It’s about how I believe we achieve greater things if we strive to be recognised for being amazing rather than to avoid being punished for failure. You might think that’s pretty obvious but the threat of punishment for failure is quite intrinsic to so many people’s formative years and beyond.  I have a child like need for feedback. My primary driver is recognition. I know what punishment for failure looks like on quite an epic scale, but it never made me achieve anything good, ever. It can’t just be me.

Many parents lament the loss of corporal punishment and the ability to smack their own children. I am totally in support of strict discipline to establish boundaries of behaviour but punishment should cease when it is used as the motivator to better things.  It does not make people achieve better things. People throughout history have done terrible things to avoid punishment, they’ve done amazing things to get recognition, am I making sense? There are example’s I have seen in my life that have actually crushed people’s potential achievements and stunted their personalities. Making otherwise outgoing people shy and withdrawn. Discouraging creative people from expressing and using their talents. People can affect other people’s whole lives without even knowing it.

The teacher who could just say “No that is incorrect but here is how you understand and figure that out” But instead says “wrong again you stupid boy, will you never learn?  I don’t know how I put up with you in my class” The parent who just says, “Don’t slam the door!” When a child races noisily into the house to tell of something they have done which they are very excited about. The old story of the carrot and the stick has merit but the stick should be used to create boundaries of behaviour, not to try and enforce enterprise.

The key people influencing our lives when we are or were growing up must understand what that influence can mean and how it can affect the entire lives of those they have influence over. The parent or teacher who uses threats of punishment for failure as the motivator for endeavour is merely creating an invisible line of satisfactory performance below which the punishment for failure lies. Threats of exclusion and humiliation if you don’t’ achieve a particular goal or target. Guess what? That invisible line becomes the standard the pupil or child focuses upon. Being a bit better than not demonstratively failing means avoiding punishment. That’s where mediocrity or worse lives and breeds. People learn to manipulate, lie, cheat and deceive to avoid being punished rather than seeking ever greater levels of achievement to gain recognition and encouragement because they weren’t being encouraged, just threatened.

History is littered with poignant tales of lives dramatically affected when a young person or even adult had just wanted to make the person most influential in their lives proud.  If the influence was positive, supportive and encouraging, usually the story ends well. If the influence was negative, unsupportive, pressurised, or even malign, mostly the story ends badly, fatally even. This isn’t rocket science but sadly too many people do not encourage the particular gifts of those they influence. I know of a number of people who had no encouragement at all from their parents or teachers in what they were good at because the parent didn’t approve or the teacher didn’t know, or understand, or have time. So those people’s talents went unused, ignored and wasted, lost to the world for want of a few positive words from people who mattered. That is a terrible shame and it’s happening every single day.

The people who are encouraged at every step of a journey to what they wish to achieve look forward rather than back at the invisible line.

It’s quite simple but if people are encouraged to achievement of a goal rather that threatened with failure for missing a target they are more likely to accomplish their goals. In accomplishment lies self-belief and self-belief is crucial to achievement. Self-belief needs reinforcement though; you only get self-belief when you know others believe in you too, you only know they do if they tell you funnily enough.

Self-belief is confidence in your abilities and if you are confident in yourself and what you do, other people will believe in you. That is the only path to success in whatever you set out to do. If people have no confidence in you, how can you have confidence in yourself? If you have no confidence in yourself it will be because you fear or feel a failure, you are looking back to the invisible line, discouraged, not encouraged. You’ll be able to trace that back to somewhere. I’m not a psychologist but I know that people feel an awful lot better about themselves when surrounded with reinforcement and encouragement rather than threats and having what failure looks like pointed out to them all the time. Like I said, this is not rocket science but it still seems to come as news to far too many people in charge of impressionable minds young and old.

It’s not a hard concept to grasp, looking at the really really big picture?

PositanoAll the incredible things in our world, made or done by people will have been done by people spurred on and encouraged to be amazing. The most horrible, hateful, evil things have mostly been done by people under threat of punishment or fear of the consequences of failure or disobedience.

 

Simple and obvious.

Oradour Small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all have people around us influenced by us in some way or another, major and minor. Just make sure your influence is positive, it’s not difficult. Lift a spirit, don’t crush it. The only thing that should be crushed near any spirit is usually ice. Chin up!

Categories: Beginners guides, General views, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Waitangi Day

Coat of armsThe 6th of February is Waitangi Day in New Zealand. Also known as New Zealand day. It’s sort of our little version of the American 4th of July but with an awful lot more controversy surrounding it over the years and not so much celebration, which is a shame. I worried about doing this post as I don’t want to come across the wrong way. But I also remembered most of the readers of this blog are not Kiwis so will know little about Waitangi day and the non Maori New Zealanders relationship with the people who got to New Zealand first. The Māori.

This relationship is too broad and wide ranging to summarise in simple blog post and also I am not a Historian nor Social Worker so I’m just going to give my take on how I see it and see how that goes

The Treaty of Waitangi was the document signed by representatives of the British Crown and the Māori leaders. The Treaty signed at Waitangi in Northland, hence the name, established a British Governor of New Zealand, recognised Māori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave the Māori the rights of British subjects. It was signed in 1840. Since the 1970’s the Māori have started to raise many objections to the content and the rights and wrongs of the treaty and have been trying to wrest control of what they see as their land and so on back from the Crown. They have largely been successful in getting all the demands they have made acceded to. Most Kiwis, non Māori and Māori, believe that enough has been done now. We should all just get along as Kiwis together and celebrate our uniqueness. It seems some people are never satisfied though. There continue to be grievances but I struggle to see the foundation for them anymore.

I was going to give a view on how that all turned out but I’ve changed my mind. I’m just going to talk about how I feel about the Māori people and my experience of Māoridom in and around my life.

I believe that the New Zealand Māori are the most respected even loved, engaged, involved, integrated and I hesitate to use the word, but yes, indulged ethnic Minority in the world, which is what they are. There are about 530,000 people of Māori Ancestry in New Zealand which has a population of over 4 million. Not one of them is what one might term a ‘full Māori’. The last ‘full Māori’ died in the 1960’s.

Many non Māori New Zealanders will wear Māori jewellery, greet each other in Māori and use Māori terms to refer to their friends and family. The Māori may be a minority but the Kiwis of all hues completely identify themselves with Māori culture. You will be familiar with the All Black Haka, it is stuff of legend.

Kiwis are tremendously proud of the feats of the 28th Māori Battalion in the 2nd World War and the New Zealand Army infantry or fighting units are still largely made up of Māori men. The Last Victoria Cross awarded to a New Zealand soldier was to a Māori chap called Corporal Willie Apiata VC, in Afghanistan. The first Victoria Cross given to a Māori combatant was in the First World War, to a Pilot of Māori descent.

When I was little we lived on a Department of Māori Affairs owned sheep station in a very remote part of the country and I went to a Māori School. I spent my first two years at school with only Māori people and my own family for company. It used to intrigue me that the Māori kids after swimming seldom bothered with a towel, nor underwear. At my next school the Māori family that lived nearest us used to send their kids to school without any lunch. They had to scavenge what they could out of other kids lunch boxes. Which is pretty crap. When we were that age, we didn’t know about the Treaty of Waitangi really. Everyone had heard of it but we just got on with our Māori mates. We used to play and work together. All we thought about the Māori as a race different to us was that they were browner than us and really good at singing and playing guitar.

On to High School and you became more aware as you got educated that too many Māori were not embracing the education system. I believe this is fundamentally due to social issues in Māori households rather than any sort of lack of opportunity for Māori people. The Māori have exactly the same opportunities as non-Māori in New Zealand. I will argue vigorously with anyone about there being any institutional racism in New Zealand. However there is much good natured leg pulling. Which some might see as racist? I beg to differ, its cultural differences being joked about. Our Māori school friends would rib us for being culturally ignorant Pakeha softies and we would tease them by saying they should be thankful the Dutch didn’t colonise New Zealand first. Stuff like that. No-one was taking any offence as none was intended except to the South African regime of the time. More on that later.

But there are real Social problems in many Māori Communities. There is a big gang problem in New Zealand that people outside NZ are largely unaware of. These are not kids with a bad attitude and a hat on backwards. These are very big angry men causing much trouble to each other. Every town in New Zealand has several of them setting a very bad example to young Māori feeling disaffected by the stuff going on at home and School. You would be surprised to learn how many talented young Māori rugby players schools in New Zealand have that turn away from the sport when they leave school and discipline and discover the delights of beer. It is very sad, actually a tragedy.

The majority of Māori kids do get on with School though and go on to gainful employment afterwards. They can and do achieve anything they wish to as New Zealanders. Like I said, we have much of what might be considered casual racism in New Zealand as in any country with people of different colour. Sadly it’s a way of life across the world. But there is no institutional racism. As an Example, The current Governor General, The Queens representative in New Zealand is General Sir Jerry Matapere. Formally commander of New Zealand land forces. One of the most high profile politicians in NZ apart from the Prime Minister is leader of the New Zealand First Party, Winston Peters, a Māori. You will encounter Māori people in all walks of life and in all occupations. You cannot say the same of Australian Aboriginals, or Native Americans or Canadians, or any other country I am aware of. That is not meant to be patronising it’s just stating a fact. There is nothing but social issues within their own communities stopping Māori kids achieving anything they want to do in life. There is certainly nothing from the Treaty of Waitangi standing in their way.

More cheerfully, as well as being historically known as a ‘warrior people’ the Māori have a tremendous sense of humour. No-one tells a Māori joke as well as a Māori but now we must consider them racist jokes as we have lost our own senses of humour somewhere along the way. The jokes were never intended as racist but for the purposes of fun poking, we are no longer allowed to poke fun, even in fun, which is a shame.

I am going to give you a couple of examples of uniquely Māori humour though to give you an idea. Excuse the mild expletive. When I was in the army, with many Māori comrades in arms of course. We spent much time practising shooting as you can imagine. We almost always had Māori training NCO’s. One day a Māori bloke from the East Coast was not demonstrating sufficient skill at his target practise. The Māori instructor ripped his rifle from his hands, (once it had been made safe of course) and shouted the following at him “You f**ken dumb Māori, you can’t shoot for shit. Shall I get you some East Coast Kumara and you can throw that instead, you might hit something, now f**k off back to camp”. I hadn’t laughed so much in years.

Prior to that in 1981. The Mighty Springboks had come to New Zealand during the Apartheid era. New Zealand was in turmoil over it. There were riots in the street. Many Kiwis felt we should not be playing sport against a team from a regime such as ran South Africa at the time. Many other Kiwis wanted to see the All Blacks play a rare series against their greatest rivals. During the Apartheid era, when the All Blacks toured South Africa, they were not allowed to turn up with any Māori team members which were invariably among the teams key players. Imagine that! How horrendous is that? Not allowed to go and play for your country at your national sport against your greatest foe at their place because you were brown. This is not all that long ago.

So, there was trouble on the streets of New Zealand when the South African Springboks under the Apartheid Regime arrived. I went to see them play the NZ Māori team at Mclean Park in Napier. The Māori were very keen to have a go at the Springboks as you can imagine. The New Zealand Māori Rugby team is almost as good as the All Blacks. So we all came from miles around to watch the Māori play the Springboks. The Springboks had in their side the very first coloured chap to play rugby for South Africa. His name was Errol Tobias and he played on the wing. The Māori really took the match to the Springboks and had them on the back foot for much of the game. It was a match of incredible intensity. During a lull in the play though a lone voice echoed across the park. “Hey Errol, I bet you wish you were a Māori today ay boy?” The whole park fell about themselves. Brilliant comic timing. As a foot note. The Māori won the game 12-9 but the scoreboard showed the score as 12-12. A last minute drop goal was awarded despite it not going over the bar. I know. I saw it, I was there! After the match though the Māori people walked out with chests puffed out like barrels. Great pride on their faces as their boys had beaten the mighty Boks despite what the scoreboard said. “Bloody stupid shit ref robbed us though, he needs his arse kicked” as one chap put it so eloquently.

Happy Waitangi day to all of New Zealand.

Want to see the New Zealand Māori rugby team in action? This little clip from the same stadium. McLean Park in Napier will give you a pretty good idea of what a proper Haka looks like.

Categories: General views, New Zealand, Politics, Rants, Raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

On what’s written on things

Audi A3I had a momentous day recently. One of those days that only comes around every few years if you are me. I had spent a few days doing what is one of my favourite things in the world to do and the culmination of those efforts was for me to email a colleague and say “place the order”. I was like a kid with a new toy which is kind of what I was, except I am not a kid and it was not a toy. I had chosen and I had ordered my new company car. I got to choose the one I wanted and I was very happy indeed.

That’s not what I’m writing about though. It got me thinking about how important what is written on stuff is. It’s also very important to you but you just didn’t know it yet. When I say stuff, I mean things. Things are unlike the arts, music or culture, things are things.

When it comes to art, music and culture, what is written on it, or about it, is pretty irrelevant to our feelings about it. What is written on things is far more important than what is written about them. You may be confused about that, but bear with me.

Regardless of your taste in art, music or culture, you will form your opinion of the painting, sculpture, movie, album or show based upon what you personally thought of it. The Critics are in quite universal agreement when heaping praise upon the ‘Les Miserables’ movie for example. I thought it was a bit crap. Everyone tends to think Pink Floyd were musical geniuses, I find their music to be pretty dreary. People will pay significant sums of their own money to hear or see Coldplay. I would pay the equivalent amount to never have one of their miserable dirges sucking a bit of the joy out of my day ever again.  There are people who do not own, nor have ever even heard the Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ Album when it should actually be issued to every child at birth.

There are many people who voluntarily listen to James Taylor, or that guy who sang about a lady in red, or even more bizarrely, Dubstep. I’m sure I have said it before but ‘Dubstep’ in my opinion is the noise a robot would make if it were possible to torture one to death. I really like ‘don’t stop moving’ by S-Club 7 whereas some people would like to ceremonially set their entire back catalogue on fire for crimes against music. I on the other hand would like to do just that to John Lennon’s pretentious rubbish. I really like heavy rock and even punk rock, but also have 9 Kingston Trio albums. Yes, exactly!

There are people who go all silly over modern art. Most of it looks like it has been done by a child, with crayons. Some people will pay millions for what I can achieve with a kitchen wizz and a bowl of raspberries by accident.

So no, regardless of what is written about arts, music and culture you will form your own opinion on whether it is any good or not.

This doesn’t work that way for things. I’d like to briefly gloat about my new car if I may. I had chosen for my company car, the brand new 2013 Audi A3 2.0 TDI which has 150 horsepower’s and 320 torques, 320!! That’s an awful lot of torques, more than some Porsche 911 variants. Torques are the bit of the engine that helps when you put your foot down to pass people without changing down a gear or two. 320 is more than the majority of cars on the road. The new Audi A3 has such clever technology that while I am driving flat out, but within the national speed limit of course, passing everything in sight with all my torques. I can also do a combined MPG of nearly 70. I’ll get over 1000 miles out of a tank of diesel if I choose to let some other road users be in front of me for a while. That’s actually amazing because while I am doing all that I’ll only be using 107 carbon footprints which means I don’t pay much tax on it either. The car tax in Britain is based on how bad for Polar Bears our cars are. I’d chosen a red one as I didn’t want to pay extra for metallic paint and I’m sure we will soon learn it’s bad for the Colombian Tree Toad. I don’t care about the Colombian Tree Toad but I don’t want to have to pay any more tax on it’s behalf.

But back to my point about what is written on things. If you told me I could have all that in exactly the same car but the car had BMW written on it instead. I would decline without hesitation as it would be an awful car which I would not be seen dead in, why is that? You could say to me. “I’ll give you £25,000 to spend on a nice Audi or here is £100,000 to spend on the best BMW ever made”, I’d take the Audi. I hate BMW’s despite them being an excellent motor car. I hate them because they have BMW written on them. Other cars suffer from having the wrong things written on them. Look at Alfa Romeo, they make beautiful, stylish cars but because they have Alfa Romeo written on them we take it for granted that they will sooner or later break down. I’m not sure how long ago that was a reality but the reality is that is what we think. Ford makes tremendous cars. Really brilliant, comfortable, technologically advanced and well specified cars but they have Ford written on them, which means many people will not have one on that basis. In Australia people will actually beat you up if you favour the wrong side of the Ford versus General Motors (Holden) argument in the wrong place. I’m not making that up.

I, and it’s not just me, make value judgements of things regardless of their quality because of what is written upon them. Some examples. I view t-shirts as underwear, I do not wear t-shirts unless as an undergarment to accessorize a shirt. I have two t-shirts, black ones. One has Hugo Boss written on it and one has Marks and Spencer’s written in it. The Hugo Boss one cost 5 times as much as the M&S one and they are indistinguishable but for the writing. I like my Boss one best and wear it the most, under a shirt where you cannot see what is written on it.

In New Zealand we have two main breweries. Lion and DB. There are many other beer makers now but these are the big boys. They have a base beer each. One is called Lion Red, the other is called DB Draught. I’ve never tried but in a blind tasting it would probably be impossible to choose which was which. They are basically the same thing. However, no self- respecting supporter of one brewery or the other would ever be caught drinking the wrong one. I would no more drink a Lion Red of my own free will than fly to the moon. We are from DB stock. Our family are DB people and Lion Red is for Aucklanders and Rugby League fans.

If you took my iPhone and wrote Samsung on it, I would throw it away despite them doing much or almost entirely the same thing. If you gave a woman I know some greenery and showed her the bag afterwards with spinach written on it, she would actually throw up. I’m pretty sure if my New Zealand Passport had Australian Passport written on it, I would kill myself. Is it the power of suggestion, or the words themselves, or what they mean? It must just be the words in some respects, as surely if the item under the words is the same as an item with other words written on them we would be perfectly happy. Well except the Australian Passport of course, I shuddered a little bit as I wrote that down. Apart from the Aussie Passport, it’s simply that some clever marketing or advertising person has changed what you think of what words represent. It’s that simple really.

You think I’m being trite? Look at your sunglasses? What are they? Have you ever heard of Luxottica? Of course you haven’t, but they make all the sunglasses. I mean ALL the sunglasses. You like your designer sunnies of course and don’t mind paying a few bob for a really good pair. The reality is they are all made by the same company and you are just paying for a different logo to the other designers sunnies which are made by the same people who made yours. You have shelled out all that cash purely based upon what was written on your sunglasses.

What is written on your things is your driving decision in the buying of the things. Far more so than you think, or thought. My driving decision was easy, my driving thing has Audi written on it and I was very happy indeed, not in any way a kind of blue, which I will have on the car stereo. I find it calms me when I see all the boorish behaviour of the BMW drivers I have to share the road with. I bet they listen to dubstep.

Categories: Advertising/fashion, Raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Les Misérables, Sandy’s review

Les Miserables

Although by no means qualified to be a movie reviewer, I am incredibly well qualified to review this movie on its merits as a standalone production rather than as a comparison with the stage show as so many reviews will do. This is because I had never seen the stage show; I had not read the book. I did not know what the story was about and could not even identify any songs on the radio as being from the stage show soundtrack.

I only found out ‘I dreamed a dream’ was from the musical when I saw it being sung in the film for example. There was Susan Boyle singing her heart out on Britain’s got Talent and I had no clue what the song was about or where it was from!

So if you aren’t familiar with what Les Mis’ is about either, at least you will have half an idea by the time you have read this. I am also not a fan of ‘musical theatre’ which I thought Les Misérables was. I thought it was a musical! It’s not, or at least it should not be described as such. More on that later.

I thought Les Misérables was about the French Revolution and even that is wide of the reality. So no, I had no preconceptions at all when I walked into the cinema to see what all the fuss and hype was about.

I’m not too worried about revealing any of the plot as it seems everyone but me has seen Les Mis’ and knows more about it than I do or did. So I can crack on with what I thought of the film.

Firstly, who knew it was actually a love story and a tale of a man discovering the merits of good morals over thieving with a backdrop of a small insurrection in Paris towards the end? More a revolt than a revolution as the actual French Revolution was about 40 odd years before the story’s climax. The Revolution with everyone being guillotined in downtown Paris was long over. This story was set in the power squabbles that followed. Apparently this particular skirmish or revolt was so insignificant, if Victor Hugo hadn’t written about it in the original book no-one would have remembered it!

Yes, I also found out that the story was written by Victor Hugo. He must have been quite popular when they were building France after the revolution as it appears every single town and village in France has a Rue named after him.

Back to the film as an adaptation of the longest novel ever by Victor Hugo, or just about anyone by all accounts.  The stage show was described as a musical play. You know what it is? It’s an Opera, not a musical. Les Misérables first and foremost is an Opera and should be sung by Opera singers, not actors who learned how to sing a bit. The thing is though that when Les Misérables as a stage show first appeared the critics weren’t keen and if it had been sold to the public as an Opera, the public and therefore commercial appeal would have plummeted. It probably would not have survived a week let alone being what must be the longest running stage show of all time. So I guess someone likes it. It seems though, that in the book version of this story, there is little to sing about.

Despite that, the film is a musical where every single line is sung, even the talking bits and that’s just odd. If you knew you were going to the Opera you would expect it, but not in a movie. Watching people have a conversation by singing to each other is odd and uncomfortable. It took me half the film to get used to it.

The Acting is fantastic, really top drawer thespian efforts but the singing is just adequate for musical theatre and some way below par for the Operatic quality required to do any of the songs any justice. This is where the movie was more hard work than enjoyment for me. Because of all the singing of conversations between actors whose day job is not singing, the film spent its entire duration just one flick of the pen away from being a comedy.

The slightest amendment to the interpretation and this film dissolves into pantomime. Certainly the Master of the House scene was pure pantomime with no pretext of being anything else and I gather that is not what old Victor intended.

Again, I had no idea about the content or the story of Les Misérables and when the little bun fight between the Students and the tenacious Javert is over and the revolt is quashed the love story proper kicks in and I was beside myself. The film is actually just for girls and blokes in touch with their feminine side. It is relentlessly depressing which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given the title but I was expecting more revolution and less love story.

I actually couldn’t believe that was it. All those tricolours, barricades and revolutionary images all over the show on the marketing material? The revolution has bugger all to do with the story and is simply a back drop to one of the scenes. Some students getting all rambunctious in the back streets of Paris with no popular support hardly merits description as a revolution, rioting might be nearer the truth.

No, the film is not for chaps looking for an entertaining night out. Too many tears, anguished face pulling and moral judgements or statements being sung about, not very well. The students looked like they had taken a night out in Paris from Eton College and the French soldiers swiftly put them in their place as they were too pretty to be convincing revolutionaries.

I know people who have been along to this and were thrilled with it. They are creative people who admire a sumptuous set and some good writing. They appreciate good acting and quality film making. In truth and to be fair this has all those things. But it hovers closer to comedy than tragedy somehow. I think it’s the singing.

The lines in Les Misérables are remarkably simplistic, astonishingly so. I was actually amazed at the basic lines and rhymes, but it works as a musical piece. It would work even better as an Opera, sung by Opera singers but the high-brow Opera set would probably find it too simplistic and therein lies the rub.

As a standalone film it’s pretty magnificent if you like tales of morality and love stories, sung by actors rather than singers, but once again it’s lacking something, gravitas perhaps. There is definitely something not quite right about it, perhaps it’s the singing? Have I mentioned the singing?

But in my view, it’s a film for women mostly, but possibly also for the sort of chaps who enjoy elaborate, expensive hair cuts and wear spectacles with unusually coloured frames. It’s for blokes who button their shirts up to the top and wear skinny jeans with pointy shoes, it’s for people who work in and around films and musicals and French people (who might be surprised to hear the cockney accents of the urchins). If there was a re-discovering of the new romantic movement from the 1980’s, fans of that period would love this film. You’ll see what I mean when you see it.

I had heard that everyone should take tissues along and there would be floods of tears all over the place. I get all emotional at sad films like lots of people and more so than most. I was not even slightly moved to a sniffle in this movie. Frankly I was far more aghast than grief stricken. I have no idea how people can get emotional at a film where everyone sings everything to each other, not all that well. So it’s not for me on many levels.

I’m not going to suggest anyone goes or chooses not to based on my personal view but my tip for the chaps is as follows. If you are being taken along by your lady friend or other half and are going out of duty, your duty to both you and her is to suggest she take a girlfriend instead.

If I were to do a 3 word review of Les Misérables? It’s for girls.

Categories: Beginners guides, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

On travel

Europe on the moveYour challenge, should you choose to accept it, will be to decipher the bits of this post where my tongue is in my cheek and where it is not.

I live overseas from where I was born. I have travelled as far to my current home from my original one as it is possible to go without heading home again, but I have done little travelling. I’ve been to lots of places in the world but I would not say I have ‘travelled’. If you look at the many, nay, millions of travel books, reviews, websites, blogs and so on extolling the merits of wandering the world in clothing that doesn’t get washed as much as it should. I’ve not done that. I take holidays, which is different to travelling in my book. I don’t have enough money nor leisure time to ‘travel’ but the bigger reason is that I have no great desire to do so, no really I don’t

colomboLet’s look at where you have to ‘travel’ to rather than go on holiday. Africa, South America, Asia and the Sub-Continent. All are seething masses of humanity interspersed with jungle, or desert, or bandits, or wild bitey things in abundance. In each of those continents are major tourist attractions. Places like Machu Picchu, Angkor Watt, The game reserves, some more temples and souks. A mountain fortress or three, some very large rivers full of things that want to and will actually eat you alive.  So these major tourist attractions are called that for a very good reason. They have attracted all the worlds’ tourists, who will be there while you are there, getting in your way and annoying you. Most will have arrived in the country using scheduled airlines and use public transport to the attraction from their very nice hotel nearby. The ‘travel’ fans will have got there the hard way from some doss house or backpackers hostel, which is much the same thing, and pretend it’s better to be tired, hungry, dirty and perpetually in danger as it’s being a real ‘traveller’ rather than a tourist, who is warm well fed and comfortable. I’m not convinced.

The ‘traveller’ might say to me that I haven’t lived until I’ve kayaked on the Amazon. I know for a fact though that Jungle river journeys are unchanging from one week to the next let alone from hour to hour. I would be bored after half a day of seeing jungle on the banks of a river. Maybe I should ride a Camel in the Sahara? I’m confident that after half an hour the novelty would wear off. Perhaps I should haggle with a market trader in the Sudan. I know I would want to punch him after his continued insistence that I am impoverishing his children if I offer any less for what he is charging 10 times the value of. I’ve had a street beggar trying to sell me a Canadian stamp in Sri Lanka for $1US. I have no need of Canadian stamps and I’m certainly not about to pay a man in nappies more than their face value, no matter how persistent he is.

‘But you must go to Africa’ people say. I can assure you that I do not wish to spend even one night with just a canvas wall between me and giant man eating Lions wandering about loose, hungry, nearby.

MauritiusI went to an island in the Indian Ocean once, a place that people might regard as a tropical paradise. I know of many people who are very jealous (or would be if they knew) that I had spent two weeks on holiday on Mauritius. There are many tropical island places which many people pay an awful lot of money to go to as it looks amazing in the brochure or on the internet. Let me tell you what a day on a tropical island paradise looks like.

Am, get up, breakfast on things made from fruit. Walk the few yards to the beach, lie on it. Walk into the knee deep warm water and look at the fish. Beach again. At midday walk the few yards back to the resort for some lunch made from fruit. Back to the beach after lunch, lie on it. Back in the knee deep warm water. Back to lie on the beach. At about 5-6pm, walk a few yards to a beach bar, have a cocktail. Dinner in the resort restaurant with fruit for pudding, back to the bar. Drink expensive things regardless of the alcohol content. Bed. Next day, repeat and repeat, and repeat until you go home.

I’m not a fan of the beach. If you aren’t a fan of the beach this makes your two weeks seem very long indeed. I most likely won’t spend another fortune and fly over 10 hours to do that again.

No, I’ll stick with my annual holidays and city breaks in the civilised places where I can sit in a wicker chair and do what I like to do most on my trips abroad. Eat food, drink beer and wine and watch other people. Given my current location this is mostly in Europe.

A holiday to me is where you spend the duration in one base, relaxing. Ideally driving my own car to a nice rented house and take little adventures about the local area when you get bored with all the loafing. It is not trekking for miles from one place to the next on poor quality public transport to see as much stuff as possible among a whole bunch of people I would not want to invite to my house. See the difference?

When it comes to City Breaks, Europe is actually very small and there is no city in Europe you need to spend more than two nights in, if you are me. The reason I say Europe is very small is that there is so much of it I have no need to see any more of and I’ve not seen all that much. I went to Amsterdam, which you can do in a day, no need to see any more of Holland as Amsterdam is the best bit. I’ve done Brussels, which you can do in a day, and Bruges which you can do in an afternoon, so that’s Belgium sorted. I had a couple of days in Geneva once; you can do Geneva in a day. You are getting a drift here aren’t you? Any city in all of Europe requires no more than a day for you to get the best of it.

The ‘travel’ fans will say but how can you possibly do that in a day, what about the galleries and museums?massacre

I say to you that I have been in three galleries and museums and do not need to go into any more as I’ve seen everything. The galleries are always full of ‘Grand Master’s which are enormous gloomy paintings of men on horses, half naked fat girls eating fruit, some fruit on a table or flowers in a vase and some countryside scenes or olden days cityscapes. There will be another few rooms with some people and horses sculpted from marble before you arrive at the rooms with the pictures drawn by children with crayons. They are all identical.

Well except the one where there was a room full of empty frames, televisions with blank screens, a projector showing blank slides on a white screen, some books with nothing but plain paper pages unadorned with anything, you know, empty. Conceptual art it was called! No art is what it was and they wanted me to pay to see it. That is simply ridiculous, moving on.

The museums are uniformly full of broken bits of old things on a plinth or a stick with a description underneath in foreign language type which is too small to read. There will be some suits of Armour, some fiendish looking weaponry on display, perhaps an Aeroplane or two hanging from the ceiling and some stuffed animals in glass cases. There will also be some Roman, Greek and Egyptian stuff. I don’t need to see any of that anymore as it takes up valuable time I would rather spend sitting in a wicker chair watching people. IMG_0093

A City break is easy and should be pretty cheap. You fly to a European City of your choice. Each country will have its distinctive architecture; you decide what you like best or haven’t seen before. Stay in a clean chain hotel you’ve got a deal off a website for. Unless you have more money than you can count there is no point paying a lot for a smart or boutiquey hotel unless you have no plans to leave it. What’s the point? It’s a bedroom and a baggage store! You enter it to drop your bags, and leave about 10 minutes later. You don’t come back to it until it’s time to sleep and you leave it again immediately upon waking up to go out and catch your plane home. You spend your first morning seeing all there is to see in the invariably tiny town centre of the European city of your choice, get some lunch, poke about in a couple of shops then hit the wicker chairs in time for a drink, to watch the people go by.

That’s why you never need more than two nights. Giving you one full day in the city centre which is the only bit worth seeing. All European Cities, unless they were blown to bits in the wars, have a very nice centre where all the good stuff is. Outside that are the suburban tower blocks which you don’t need to go and visit. Two nights and one full day is all you need for all of them unless you like to see the same thing twice or stand in queue’s to see some art.

Picture 002You’ve been there and back in a weekend, got a smidgeon of culture and all is good, meanwhile, the ‘traveller’ is on some rainy, windswept platform waiting for a train that only comes along once a day to take them to a place nobody but them really wants to visit which is why there is no scheduled flight there.

I like a holiday but I have no desire to ‘travel’ and there is a difference.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

I’m on the phone!

iPhoneI’ve got one of those smart phone things. Not a silly one which the people who really want an iPhone have, but a proper iPhone and not just any iPhone but the 5, the top of the range one that can carry about 20,000 songs on it and all of the internet, plus some films. I’ve put an Australian slave in it to make it do things for me at my vocal command. I can ask the Australian slave in my phone what the weather is going to be like in London tomorrow and she will most likely say something along the lines of “It’s not looking too good in London tomorrow Sandy, you might want to take an umbrella”. I am not making that up! However, while I am often ‘on the phone’ the one thing, of all the things I do, that you are least likely to ever see me doing, is speaking to anyone on a mobile telephone device outside of office hours. Take work out of the occasion of course, but in my personal life I make so few phone calls on a mobile phone I almost don’t even require it to have that function.  But I am never without one about my person. Want to know what I do with it? Let’s go back a bit.

It’s remarkable, even amazing what has happened to the telephone since I first met one. The telephone is easily the most significant method of communication throughout my life. So much of my communication in the various relationships with friends and family has been maintained largely by telephone rather than face to face. I’m not even that old but you should have seen the first telephone I can remember encountering when I was five years old. Let’s pop back there to start the story.

Old-Wall-telephoneThe telephone we had at the farm at Mahia was one of those big wooden ones with a winding handle. You would wind the handle and somewhere a lady who was probably doing some knitting in a small wooden building would answer, you would speak to her with your greeting of choice. In our house you would say “tolls?”  She would inquire as to the direction of your call, you told her you wanted to speak to Auckland 556 or some such thing. After a few minutes you would be speaking to a relative or friend in another part of the country, most likely with the knitting lady listening to your conversation. My Grandmother took a holiday overseas at this time and it took fully 9-10 minutes to be connected to a number in England to speak with her.

Latterly we got one of those phones with the circular dial on the front, I always wondered why they put the emergency services number as 111 as that was the longest possible 3 digit number apart from 000 to dial from where you started the rotation of the circle, remember? Fortunately we never needed help urgently as if we had ever called the constabulary out there it would have taken them in the region of 2 hours to get to us if they set off immediately upon taking the call.

When we moved to civilisation we had a party line, this meant you shared your telephone line with a few other houses nearby, You’d pick up the phone to hear other people speaking on it and say “Working” which was a bit of a redundant question as you could hear people talking. I guess what it meant was ‘get off the bloody phone’.  When I was growing up, one of my father’s most well-known phrases was, “I’m going to do some ringing up”. This was done every second night or so and always at a specific time. He would make the necessary phone calls to arrange the things that fathers arranged. Another common phrase, usually shouted, from dad while we three boys amused ourselves during the ‘ringing up’ period was ‘I’m on the phone’ which needed no further elaboration.

Meanwhile I wanted to do my ‘ringing up’ as well as we had no friends within walking or even cycling distance. All communication was done outside school hours by telephone. We saw our friends face to face socially only when the community got together. Otherwise we spoke on the phone. One of the most controversial moments in New Zealand sports history was played out with my friend Guy and me as teenagers making to and fro phone calls with every development with ever increasing hysteria. Culminating in the final act where Guy and I just screamed a stream of unintelligible profanities at each other in total shock and disbelief at what we had just witnessed. Standing in the hall as the TV was in another room. The ‘under-arm incident’ of course.

When I joined the Army, I was allowed a phone call home each week. Mum was horrified to hear my accent deteriorate into Army Speak.  When I left home I spent far more time speaking with my family on the phone than visiting. When I left New Zealand, now all I had was the telephone. From Australia, again Mum was horrified to hear my accent come over all Aussie.  When I arrived on the other side of the world in 1991, the telephone calls home became even less frequent as the cost was huge.

I have spent far more of my life speaking with the people I knew, liked and loved and grew up with on the telephone than face to face. Apparently I have a good telephone voice. The Telephone has been my lifeline and my communication system with everyone since I first met one. It was the nature of my always finding myself living remotely from those I knew. Now we have mobile phones everywhere and everyone is talking on them all the time, except me it would seem. I don’t make calls with mine, well not many.

I make my phone calls to people I wish to speak to from a landline, at home in private. Who is everyone else speaking to all the time during the day? Well I know who some of them are as it seems many people have no idea that other people can hear them, or do they not care? If not why not? Sometimes it’s funny, like the guy engrossed in a conversation with his wife, or mistress, or whatever, standing in front of the Agent Provocateur window in Soho, and shouting into his phone while looking at and describing to her an incredibly revealing and ‘saucy’ bra and knickers set. “Darling it’s SO you!”

Or not funny but tragically sad. Like the lady on the train talking to her partner who obviously has huge self-esteem and depression issues. I had half an hour of a one sided conversation beside me as he was clearly having a bad day at home. A conversation that should have taken place behind the closed door of a therapists office. Then there was the ‘yummy mummy’ who didn’t want to drive the night of her husband’s Christmas party, why should she sit there with some Elderflower cordial while he and all his colleagues got pissed?  She asked him this question over half a dozen times in various ways while I was sitting opposite her. Then there is the commuter who describes his day to his wife while on the train on his way home, to his wife. Why? These are people having conversations that could and should be face to face in private, but they use a phone in public? Why? I spent my life having to use a telephone to speak to people I would have rather spoken to in person. These people are doing the opposite, maybe that’s why it upsets and angers me so much

The people walking around in public, living lives publicly, in front of everyone, shouting personal things down a mobile phone in a shop, while making a transaction or standing right next to me. Stop it, put it down! Have you no shame or social awareness? It’s just rude and also completely unnecessary! It also pisses me off.

Having said all that, like I said before I always have my smart phone with me. I use it an awful lot. I love it as it’s my favourite gadget. So if I’m not making phone calls what am I doing with it? My iPhone is full of Apps, some of which I use. I use it a lot for Facebook as for me it’s like the modern version of the old gossipy phone call. All my old friends back home are living their lives while I am asleep and vice-versa. It keeps me in touch, but that’s not what I mostly use it for, I do a bit on Twitter, but not much. I use it a bit to make my Australian slave tell me where things are. Like the nearest petrol station for example. But that’s not what I mostly use it for. I occasionally make some birds angry with it. As an aside I think the birds look as though they’re having a ball and it’s actually the pigs that should be angry?

My phone is powerful enough to guide satellites through space.  There is almost nothing you cannot do with it as it is a technological marvel and also a thing of beauty to hold, no really, you should see it!

stairsMy favourite thing which I mostly it for? Well taking photos of random things, messing about with them a bit and then putting them on the Internet for fun of course!IMG_0222

‘What on earth is the point of that’ you may ask? Well it’s my phone and it amuses me in my spare time. That’s good enough surely? I might ask what the point of golf is. I don’t need special clubs and shoes though, nor unattractive knitwear in questionable colour combinations. I hate Golf but I enjoy Instagram.

So if you ever need to find me, most likely I’m with my phone, I’m just not ‘on the phone’.

Categories: Advertising/fashion, General views, Rants, Raves, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Round Robin

Fat Robin I know I said happy Christmas and all that on my last post but the post wasn’t very christmassy. This is going to be along the lines of a ’round robin’ thing one might put in a Christmas card. Sort of a roundup of the goings on in 2012 which in many ways was quite a momentous year. If I was one for doing round robins this is what it might look like, sort of.

 

There will be some photos along the way and I will finish up with a fantastic Christmassy photo I took in France. So, to begin

For reasons best known to ourselves we thought a great way to kick off 2012 was with a puppy. We had lost meg on 14.12.11 and we are used to having three dogs. For the record this is the last time we will have 3 dogs. We drove to Oxfordshire to look at some Parson Jack Russell’s and didn’t get one of them. Yes, we are strong enough to walk away from a puppy. The next day we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon where we didn’t walk away from a puppy. Because the puppy was Pip who I am sure you will agree was actually the world’s cutest puppy.

Pip,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather has been a feature of much discussion for everybody in 2012. Much discussion because there has been so much weather.  Very little of it has been good weather but the weather has been abundant. We had snow in February, not like the ‘great snow’ of 2010 but enough for some fun and photography without becoming a nuisance, like the ‘Great snow’ of 2011 which overstayed it’s welcome. We had -10 degrees Celsius here in Surrey as well. -10! Not as cold though as the ‘great freeze’ of 2009 when we had -15 for about a week but enough for some nice ‘my word that’s a bit parky’ photos.

Card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In February we felt a quick trip to the continent might be a good idea. We wanted to do a bit of a supermarket shop and visit a couple of war memorials. We thought it might be a treat to take Jessie with us as she is ‘the special one’. For the record we will not be taking Jessie on any further foreign adventures on her own as she does not embrace being left in the car by herself. When you pop into a supermarket for example.

Lesson learned and we also learned that Arras is not really worth a second visit. Vimy Ridge memorial is though. It’s amazing.

On the 24th of March, spring arrived. It was a very nice day and I believe that was the last one we had in 2012. I’ll let you know if I can think of another. I think that was also the day when I actually figured out how my camera works.

Whats for supper?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also started a Photographic project called ‘The great British tradesman’s entrance’. It’s a work in progress with no set timetable but it will feature things along these lines. You know, tradesman’s entrances, in Britain. Hence the name. I’m very creative like that.

Petworth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In May we were invited to the 50th Birthday celebration of our Friend Hugo or Huge as we call him it’s only a little disturbing that we get invited to our peers and friends 50ths now but I’ll lighten that by saying how wonderful it was to get together with some friends and be hosted by Hugo and Maxine or Max as she is known. It’s also wonderful to have friends called Huge and Max which is an excellent name for a couple.

May was also when Her Majesty’s Jubilee celebrations started to get into full swing. The highlight for us was the fact that the Royal Air force on its way to thunder about above London to show off for the Queen flew directly over our house while Enroute to the Capital. I managed to snap this shot of an Apache Gunship among my shrubbery. I’m very pleased with it.

Apache Gunship over my house!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the perks of Jenny’s job is that she can get cheap rates at nice Hotels so we can have little breakettes without breaking the bank.  June seemed like a good time to sneak away for a couple of days and Lisbon looked like a sound option.

Lisbon1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is but watch out for the couvert!

Also in June my long lost Aunt came to visit. My Dad’s baby sister who I hadn’t seen since I was 13. Chris filled in the gaps in the family story for me and advised me of several new cousins she had just recently found out about. My wider family had increased in size by about 20% and who knew such scandal and intrigue existed on my father’s side of the family?  Having dinner and a few drinks with Chris was like having an episode of your own personal soap opera explained to you. But a huge welcome to the family to Francis, Ashley, DeAnna and Todd.

June is also the Festival of Speed at Goodwood where it rained so much it was a very poorly titled festival. I bought an expensive umbrella but managed to find myself under cover each time the heavens opened using some sort of new 6th or weather sensing sense. The weather was ‘changeable’ though and I did manage to capture probably my favourite action shot of the year. Imagine trying to photograph these two in focus. I had a nano-second as the crossing speed of the Jets was about 1000 knots.

Red Arrows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also learned that the ‘signature’ bike of the Indian Motorcycle brand is called the Indian ‘Kiwi’ Chief after Bert Munro of ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ fame. That’s pretty cool.

The British summer was just that in name only. I think the actual day it happened was the 24th of July.  It was a nice day so worth waiting for. None of that mattered though as the actual summer holidays were upon us. Holidays as in time off work.  We packed up the car. Left the dogs in the capable hands of my Aunt Chris and set off for Southern France. I’ve already written about the holiday on my blog. It was called ‘once upon a French Holiday’. We had the most wonderful time. The house was perfect, so much so that we are not telling anyone where it is or which website it is on. We have booked it again for our holidays in 2013. So that’s brilliant. While we were there Jenny made me drive around stealing posters of fetes, vide greniers and any other likely looking poster that would look nice in her new garden shed.  The shed does look better with the little French posters on its walls. Don’t get me started on the shed.

Shed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around this time there was a running and jumping festival of some note in East London.

It went terribly well and the British have generally had a tremendous year at playing games which has made everyone very happy. Well apart from the Footballists who proved yet again what sort of value for money they offer us.

My book had been doing the rounds in New Zealand and was very well received. Have I told you about my book? It’s largely to blame for all this really. The blog, the writing, all of it started again after about 25 years of not writing anything with me knocking a few memories together to send back to the rellies at home. There are also at least 2 copies in America! One in LA and one in Oregon somewhere, in a tent I think.  If you don’t know about the first book you haven’t spent enough time having a poke about in my blog!

October bought us back to Scotland. I also wrote about that.  In October in Scotland I climbed my mountain, as one does.

Nearly there!  In November I went on a business trip to Cornwall and popped to Padstow which isn’t as nice as people think it is. The worst weather in Britain in 2012 turned up on the 22nd of November and I drove nearly 300 miles home through it. For the first time in all my years of doing an awful lot of driving I had to stop and take shelter for a while just to recover my concentration in the middle of the journey.  Roads were washed out. Trees were flying across the motorways. I had to divert across entire counties to make my way back home.  It was by some margin the most exhausting days driving of my life. I’d make a joke about it but there just isn’t one.

December arrived in a downpour and we went to Lille for a night out.  Because we can and it’s cheaper than a night out in London.  I also wanted to take a Christmassy photograph. Which is what I will end this with. Funnily enough it was raining in Lille.

Today is the 21st of December. The day the world ended apparently which is a shame as it all looks very similar to yesterday before the world ended. Apart from the fact it isn’t raining.

The lowlights of the year? My expensive Wellington Boots are not as waterproof as I would expect them to be.  The realisation that some people are not what you might have thought.  The weather.

The highlights? Me publishing my little book about what I have been up to and it being enjoyed by so many people. The Sandysviews book being accepted into the iTunes bookstore. Pip turning out to be such a great addition to the family rather than a pain in the arse Jack Russell. Some of the great images I’ve been able to capture this year as I got used to how my camera actually works. Like this one!

Red Kite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m delighted with the amount of traffic on the blog. I enjoy writing but I get far more pleasure out of it being read by other people than I would if I wrote it just for myself. The blog exists to entertain, inform or amuse. I don’t do it for me. Want to know a couple of key statistics?

Number of page views as of right now, 34,070!

Depending on whom you ask there are about 196 countries in the world and I have had visitors to my blog from 129 of them and that is completely amazing. That is the number that makes my year.  Thank you for visiting and have a fantastic Christmas or holiday season if Christmas isn’t your thing. I hope 2013 brings you all the things you wish for or need. Here as promised is my favourite Christmassy photo, from a street corner in Lille. Taken with a camera on a mobile telephone.  Cheers!

Lille

Categories: General views, Raves | Tags: , , , , , | 18 Comments

A spot of lunch

Are we sitting comfortably? I want to tell you a story about a lunch.

Fresh homemade bread, some thick slices of cold ‘off the bone’ Ham, a bit of chutney, a Kit-Kat and a bottle of water. That was probably the best lunch in my life. I just sat there on my own eating a sandwich which I had made for myself after breakfast. The Kit-Kat was an indulgence but I do like a Kit-Kat at lunchtime. I often have one during the day when I am at work. I have a sweet tooth.

Yes, I think on reflection that particular sandwich and Kit-Kat was the best lunch I have ever had.

Partly because this is what I was looking at while I had it.

Lunch stop

But actually It’s not even the view that made it the best lunch. It was what I had done to get to the view.

Anyone who knows me will have a selection of words or phrases they might use to describe me. Hopefully some are even complimentary but one word that no-one will use is ‘driven’. This is because I am not a driven person. I don’t even like being driven. I will never voluntarily surrender the keys to a motor vehicle. I hate being driven, but that is a different kind of driven of course

I don’t mind being told what to do funnily enough, which is just as well as if most things were left to me, they would not get done. My wife thinks I think she nags me, which she does but she has to. Is that too much using of the word ‘she?’ I’ve been very much about ‘never try and accomplish today that which would more easily be done tomorrow’. I would never, ever, do something difficult, or arduous or tiring without having a compelling reason for doing it. Something compelling like survival or rescue for example.

So I would never go on a ‘walking holiday’, I would never go mountaineering or take up running or even just go outside in the cold to compete with other people for some points on a board. It’s in my genetics some might suggest, but it has actually been something else. I am also incredibly talented at finding an easy solution to things other people would labour over. Things that require physical effort or the use of tools. I pay tradesmen to do that stuff. That’s what they are there for.

That being said, when I put my mind to resolution of an issue I feel needs rectification. I will be relentless in my pursuit of what is right or fair. I will only back down when I encounter actual impossibility. Otherwise I will just keep going until the end of time, or I get my way. A large telecoms provider has found this out on more than one occasion. The score is currently Vodafone 0 – Sandy 2. I’m very resourceful. I think I’m largely a relaxed person but also given to outbursts of fury when I meet the slovenly or inconsiderate of service or action. I was once described by a very wise person as ‘an angry young man’. I most certainly was. But I’m older now.

I digress. Why was this the best lunch I ever had?

It would take too long to explain what has been going on in my head for the last 21 or so years since I left New Zealand. ‘Turmoil’ would be a good one word description. Because of the manner of and my feelings about the departure and the reasons for it. I had not left on my own terms. That alongside some things that happened not so very long ago mean’t I’ve had a challenging few years inside my own mind. When I say ‘few years’, I mean nearly half of my life. I was fundamentally unhappy. It’s hard to explain but I spent an awfully long time asking ‘what’s the point?’ Of everything I did before eventually, usually unwillingly completing almost any task or activity. I look a bit like and can function like a regular person, but everything is a chore, because I just could not be bothered with or about anything. It’s not a pleasant way to live. This may come as news to most that know me but like I said, it was a state of mind, not outwardly visible. It was my own world inside my head.

We have wonderful friends who invite us to stay with them on the side of a mountain in Scotland every year. This mountain. In New Zealand it would be called a hill, it’s a mountain.

Lodge

I’ve looked at that mountain every time we went up to Scotland and wondered what the view would be like from the top of it. I also knew I would never find that out because I did not have access to a helicopter to take me up there. I was most certainly not about to walk up there as that would be impossible for me. Far too much effort required to even contemplate.

Sometime around the middle of this year for reasons I have no knowledge of I somehow shook off my apathy, inertia and negative state of mind. It was a bit like emerging from a cave. I’d like to give you a catalyst but I don’t have one. For no particular reason I came out of 20 or so years of turmoil. I just became more inclined to do things off my own initiative rather than getting around to it when I couldn’t put it off any longer. We also got another invitation to the lodge on the side of a mountain in Scotland.

On Saturday 6th of October 2012, I got up, had a coffee, went outside and looked at the mountain as I did every day when we are up there. You can’t miss it really. It’s right there.  I went back inside, made my sandwich and told my wife I was going up the mountain. She was quite taken aback. Probably a little worried, as was I as the place is very remote. When I say remote, the lodge is nearly two hours down a single track road beyond Fort William. There is no mobile phone signal and I was going out into the wilds of Scotland on my own, up a mountain where there are no footpaths or even tracks. I wanted to do it though and I would never have taken it on before now. I told Jenny which direction I would be heading and she just looked worried and said “don’t change your plans”.

If I fell down up there I was on my own. It would be several hours before I would be due back and no-one would know exactly where I was. There was also no way of summoning help. It was very irresponsible really. But I’d been in the army once upon a time so I believed I knew what to do if something went wrong. Well I hoped I did. Don’t try this at home.

So I went. I quickly discovered the mountain was much bigger when you are on it then when you look at it. It’s also very rough going, like I said, no tracks to follow.

Steeper than it looked

I’m not at all fit so had to stop a few times, lean on my stick and gasp. I would look further up the mountain and set myself another goal of a likely looking place to stop again and ask myself what on earth I thought I was doing. But I was doing it. All around me I could hear the roaring of Stags echoing off the valleys. I could hear water running under the ground beneath me and all about me. There was a weather front crossing not far away. I could actually look across the weather!

Mist

After a few hours I got to the point I felt was the limit of responsibility and going any further would evolve into actual danger. I had no climbing equipment, just walking boots and as I said. I was on my own. I found a very large piece of granite that was shaped a bit like a seat and I sat there. Here!

Scotland 2012 seat

I opened my little rucksack. Took out my sandwich and I ate my lunch. Looking down on the world from my vantage point. There was more world above me but I was sensible enough to not push my luck. But for the first time in my entire life. I had gone out on purpose to do something I didn’t think I could do. I hoped I would press on when it became tough but I actually even thought as I set out that I would probably go home when it got a bit hard. It was much tougher than I thought it would be but I kept going anyway under my own terms.

I just sat there with a simple sandwich being very happy at having climbed my mountain.

My sandwich was the best lunch I ever had.

Thank you for reading my story. It’s just supposed to tell a tale about a happy ending and my happy beginning. There is no particular point to it other than that but this is my blog and sometimes it’s nice to tell a story just for the sake of it.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Categories: Inspiration, Raves, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The Greatest Show on Earth

TombstoneRecently, Jen and I took a trip to Lille for the night. That’s something I love about living in England and Southern England in particular. On a whim we can hop in our car and drive to Europe for supper. Lille is great as it’s only an hour and a quarter from the Calais Eurotunnel exit. I might talk about the joys of Lille another time as that is not what this post is about.

During the afternoon while Jenny was looking at pretty things in one of many shops full of pretty things I stood in the street in the drizzle and plugged an earpiece into my mobile telephone. I wanted to listen on the internet to what was unfolding at one of the world’s greatest Rugby Stadiums.

The English Rugby fans had gone in their tens of thousands to watch their team slump to certain defeat at the hands of the Mighty New Zealand All Blacks. There was to be no winning for England on that Saturday. The fans were hoping their team might at least show some mettle but the All Blacks would always be too good for them.

Except that’s not what happened. It’s too painful to talk about but England found a superb game of Rugby from somewhere formally undiscovered. The All Blacks were off their game and one of the greatest days in the History of one of the greatest sports Stadiums in the world happened for the home side. The English people at Twickenham that day will talk about it for generations to come. The day England took apart the World Champions at their own game. That’s also not what this post is about. For those England Rugby supporters who paid for the ticket’s it was some of the best money they ever spent. Bully for them. I’ll take a rare loss for my side if the occasion was so immense for the other side while the result for us did not really matter apart from the result. It was not a cup or tournament final of any sort it was effectively an end of season friendly, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Enjoy yourselves England. Make the most of it.

However with regard to stupendous value from a sports fixture ticket, it has been an awfully long time since an England Soccer fan could make such a statement. 1966 springs to mind in fact. The highest paid sports ‘stars’ in England are the lowest achievers, they represent terrible value for money on every single level apart from to the people who run football possibly. I’m confident though that even they would like to reward soccer players with significantly less than they get paid for their services. It got me to thinking about those who get paid astronomical sums for doing their day job. My skin crawls at the thought of the remuneration levels for footballers and investment bankers.  That’s also not what this post is about as up until here it’s been rather cheerless and it’s time to cheer up a bit as it’s the season of Goodwill which is actually beside the point on my next point.

It’s a tribute to or acknowledgement of those, whom to me, represent fantastic value for money.  I have no issue at all with how much they get paid as the amount they earn is a direct reflection of their talent, skill, and creativity and how much they engage us. If we are not given to pay attention to their work and part with our money as a result of what they do, their income falls accordingly which is only fair. These are the people who bring us memories we treasure for a lifetime. They captivate us with scenes of wonder, hilarity, drama or horror. They give us a means of escaping our own world and entering the one they have created, we get to choose which one we like best! They take us to places we never knew existed or could never go to on our own. They colour our lives or make us laugh, or cry, or laugh until we cry. They take reality and make it a fantasy or a fantasy and make it seem real. Their work influences where we travel, what we think, how we speak, what we know and even how some of us dress.  We carry memories of the best and worst of their work through our entire lives. We view the best of their efforts time and time and time again. They are the people who make movies. The actors, the writers, the crews, the producers and directors of movies!

Yes movies! Great literature is great but how many books have you read twice? Great Sporting occasions are epic on the day but who other than sports anoraks watches repeats of a fantastic point scoring moment let alone footage of a repeat of an entire game of any sport? Movies are the greatest show on Earth! There was actually a film with that title but it was about a Circus, which is not the Greatest Show on Earth. A Circus is itinerants doing acrobatics and mistreating animals in a large tent for the amusement of children but something called ‘The Shittest Show in Town’ would have sold fewer tickets. Back to the movies.

We watch movies time and time again because they ARE the greatest show on earth. I must have seen Casablanca a dozen times. I know all the great lines. I watched Dr Zhivago (at about 3 and a half hour’s duration) twice in one day when I first saw it because I was so captivated. I’ve seen Four Weddings at least half a dozen times. I’m going to see Skyfall again at the cinema tonight because I enjoyed it so much the first time. All of my happiest, fondest and most long term memories of being entertained and entralled have come from moments on celluloid or it’s modern equivalent.

We have a world full of fake ‘celebrity’ today and anyone can get on the television for no good reason.  We have paparazzi photographers filling crap magazines full of people we should not care less about. But the real ‘stars’ of the last 100 years were all Film Stars, The impossibly glamorous Liz Taylor and Richard Burton for example. I don’t care that they fought like cat and dog and threw things at each other in their spare time. I don’t care that Oliver Reed might have liked to have knife fights with his son at the pub.  I loved watching them on screen.

Unlike what the media might think I’m not all that bothered how hysterical or weird the Movie stars are off screen. I don’t care what they do in their spare time. I’m not bothered if Tom Cruise and John Travolta believe we are all made up of the pulverised souls of space aliens or something like that. It matters not if an actor likes to do unusual things with furry animals inside his undergarments. If another handsome Hollywood actor let’s his famous lady friend choose his girlfriends for him to suit her own tastes, so be it. Let them do as they like in their own time. I’m here for the films and as Maximus, when he was just the ‘Spaniard’, bellowed at the crowd in Gladiator. “Are we not entertained?”  Yes we are!!

Back to the stars though. Proper stars like Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, John Wayne, Raquel Welch and the fabulous leading ladies from ages ago like Jane Seymour and Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner or Grace Kelly. Then you had the ridiculously cool and handsome guys, men like Steve McQueen, Cary Grant, Robert Redford and so on. The biggest stars in the world today I’m happy to say are still the movie people. Robert De Niro, Anthony Hopkins, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, that Australian bloke with claws, The Kiwi the Aussies think is Australian, you know, Russell Crowe, Little Tom and him off the vampire films. With the women we have the likes of Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Emma Thompson, Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Kristen Scott-Thomas, Keira Knightly and Megan Fox who can’t act but just look at her! The current stars are not so stellar somehow as the ones from my younger days but maybe that’s just an age thing as the youngsters today certainly do seem to go silly for him and her off the vampire films.

Movies change how we look at things and what we know. Remember how Helen Mirren made even republicans more sympathetic to the Queen. Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts made all the residents of Notting Hill into millionaires. We know that South Central Los Angeles is a bit rough despite never having been there or read about it in a book. We know what goes on in Indian Slums and that New Zealand is really Middle Earth. We have all been down the Grand Canal in Venice and ridden a bike or driven through small town USA. We know to be more careful which motels we check into when driving through America and to always investigate noises downstairs in a nightgown carrying a handy candlestick holder or fire poker.

If we travel to a central European city in the winter time we will want to look out for spies exchanging apprehensive glances while dressed in McIntosh coats. We know that if we ever get attacked by a dozen martial arts experts they will come at us one at a time rather than all at once and a simple well timed punch is usually just as good as flamboyant jumping and kicking. We learned to assume the worst when men with black hats ride into town or walk four abreast down the middle of the street. We also know that the worlds worst master criminals, evil geniuses or simple traitors are usually English for some reason. It’s good to learn stuff like this.

Yes, movie people can earn as much money as they like because they earn what they are worth. Their job is to make our lives better and more enjoyable and those that don’t succeed in their job of making our lives better don’t get paid as much as those that do and that’s only fair.

So no, I’m not happy my beloved All Blacks were on the wrong end of the greatest day at Twickenham Stadium but I live in England and I’m happy that my English friends are so happy. Maybe they’ll make a film about it and hopefully it will be more reflective of the reality of the achievements of the day than Clint Eastwood’s movie effort called Invictus about an important rugby match in South Africa. Yes I know! Don’t start me! McQueen

Categories: Raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Christmas Shopping tips

Christmas Jessie

Apparently recycling is a good thing to do at Christmas. So I’m doing just that. Spot the 2nd helping!

Christmas is coming and while some people might think that it’s all about Jesus, I know better. Christmas is about a huge meal, copious booze and presents, hopefully mostly for me. I am actually a big fan of the phrase and belief that it is better to give than to receive. I believe everyone should prescribe to this theory. I am going to give you my friends and followers some top tips on what to get for your better half.

Regardless of the gender. We want our other halves to think we look fabulous. We also know that while they might have great taste, we and we alone know what we look best in and are most comfortable wearing. So this Christmas, do your partner a favour and buy a lovely outfit you will love to wear and will look great in for them. You buy for them an amazing looking you (if you see what I mean). How generous and thoughtful is that? Also you don’t have the danger that a purchase for them won’t fit or they won’t like it. Buy it for yourself and you can try it on. They unwrap your gift of an outfit for you and you wear it for them. It works on every level.

If your other half is a keen cook, they are cooking not just for themselves but for you.  So get stuff for the kitchen to help them whisk up fabulous meals for you both to enjoy. Some lovely pots and pans or a blender, some fetching wooden spoons and some seasoning in an attractive hessian bag. Perfect. When they are creating  wonderful meals to keep you fed and happy they will look at the great kitchen utensils around them and know that you have contributed to their happiness.

Your other half is just as keen to look great for you as you for them and part of looking great is ones figure. Don’t get your partner chocolates. They won’t thank you for that. Chocolates make you fat and give you spots. How is that a good thing? Bad present planning. You want your beloved to be fit and healthy so get them some herbal tea, decaffeinated of course. Or perhaps some delicious healthy vegetables packaged in a nice recyclable cardboard box. A juicer, salad shredder and a diet book also make a great “I want you to live a long life with me” statement.

Another great idea for those with a few extra dollars is a smart camera for you to capture life’s moments together. Your other half will want to be in the snaps that record your lives so no point in giving them the camera. They will only resent having to take all the pictures instead of starring in them. No –  buy a really great camera for yourself and use it to give them a selection of pictures of themselves that you have taken with it.

Your other half wants you to be happy and comfortable so one of those great activity packages or treatments you can enjoy and can do together are always a good choice. Like racing sports cars or tank driving. Christmas is about sharing and getting something you will both enjoy, it just doubles the goodwill.

If you have a keen gardener, some garden tools are a fantastic option. Nothing says, “I want you to have an easier life” better than a high quality garden spade.

If you have serious money, how about a voucher for some cosmetic surgery? You want your partner to look and feel great and this is one way they can get the work done that will give them a real ‘lift’. Look them in the eye and say “I just want you to look better and feel better about yourself”. You know they will love you for it.

Unless you are loaded your beloved will always be aware of their money situation and what says “I want to help you” more than actual financial support? However unless it is to children, giving money is vulgar so instead give him or her a gift voucher for something you would like for your next gift getting occasion. This way they can enjoy choosing something special for you while not having to dip into their own meagre funds and resenting you for it.

Finally. We live in challenging times now, everyone is talking about austerity and climate change and your better half will be very keen to do their bit to make a contribution to the global fight against poverty and global warming. Once upon a time socks were looked upon as a bit of a poor present option, no longer., Now that is a statement about caring for the climate. Instead of turning up the heating they can pull on a pair of socks to keep warm. This will be doubled by the warm feeling they will enjoy for your act of consideration. As a nod to helping fight global poverty, give them the socks in a bag made from hemp which comes from the local charity shop. This will help the poor of Bangladesh feel they have a future and best of all, a meal. Everyone is a winner.

So there you go, A little bit of thinking outside the box will cement your relationship, help the two of you do more together and look forward to many long years of happiness and bliss.

Categories: Beginners guides, General views | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Social Awareness

I’ve coined a phrase, it already exists in a roundabout sort of way but the existing phrase is some crap about consciousness and how society works within itself or some such hippy sounding bollocks. My phrase is ‘Social Awareness’. In my world it means having the first clue about what is going on around you. I’m going to have a rant about those who don’t. You know who the people with no social awareness are because you are a rational sensible human being and they are not. They most certainly don’t read my work, but if they did they would be reading it right now, on a tablet walking down the middle of the footpath not knowing you were trying to get past them.

Those with no social awareness sit beside you on a crowded train, open and start to eat a cheese and onion sandwich with no clue that the stink of it makes you feel a little bit sick. They clearly have no idea or they wouldn’t do it. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they are morons with no social awareness. If they are blokes they probably also sit on crowded trains with their legs so wide apart you start to wonder if they have giant testicles. What other reason would there be to have legs so widely spread? If they don’t have giant testicles and spread their legs so wide anyway they must just have no social awareness of what others think of them.

The person with no social awareness drives down a busy high street, window shopping from the car, stopping suddenly in the middle of the road when they see the shop they sought and you have to take drastic action to not crash into the car now stationery in front of you for no good reason!

You know when you are parked at a T-junction and someone approaches indicating to travel down the road you are parked on? If they had any social awareness at all they would wave or flash their lights for you to pull out and drive off as they approach to make both your lives easier. But they don’t so they go out of their way to manoeuvre around you as all they know is that they have the right of way rather than knowing what is the right thing to do. They also drive on country roads at 40 when the speed limit is 60 with a long queue of traffic behind them, which they aren’t bothered about as they personally are not in a hurry. They have no idea that 80% of the drivers of the cars behind them hope they will crash into a tree and catch on fire.

They sit in the fast lane of the motorway doing 70 and don’t feel any compunction to pull over as they are doing the speed limit. While this is legally right, it is socially wrong but they don’t know this because they have no social awareness. These are the same people who upon pulling into a motorway services will sit in the middle of the car park entry lanes deciding where to park while others about them fume. They will stand in your way in shop doorways deciding which way to go before choosing a cheese and onion sandwich for lunch. When they have finished their sandwich they will throw the wrapper out of the car window.

They walk about in shops talking on their mobile phones rather than being embarrassed that the general public can hear their conversation. When queuing for anything that requires payment they will wait until being advised of the amount to pay before searching for their purse or wallet. How can it only occur to them at that stage that they will need to produce some form of payment? Because they have no social awareness. Often they have no spacial awareness either. Especially in supermarkets. It somehow escapes their attention that other people are also using the supermarket. I was once selecting some cheese when a woman came and stood between me and the cheese to select her own. I was actually taking items off the shelf and she stood in the small space between me and what I was doing to make her own deliberations. Who does that?

One day in the same supermarket I was placing some wine in my trolley when an irate looking gentleman with red corduroy trousers approached and said….wait for it….”I say stop that, that’s my wine!”  I continued putting the half dozen bottles into my trolley and pointed out that the wine was on a supermarket shelf which meant it probably wasn’t his wine. He accosted a shop hand and demanded he stop me from taking his wine. I said in my most polite manner “It’s was on the shelf mate, it’s not your wine, and it’s in my trolley now which means it’s my wine”. Do you know what he said next? No of course you don’t because I haven’t told you, but I will now. He said in a most strident manner…“Do you even live in this town?” As though residency of a particular town gave you more right to wine on the shelf than passers-by! I actually laughed out loud. I was concerned for a moment he might have a heart attack. An attack of the blusters would have been a great description of his tantrum. His face perfectly matched his trousers

I went and paid for my delicious wine. I had my wallet ready when the checkout lady asked for my money because I am socially aware. Mind how you go!

Categories: Rants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Casting a vote

I haven’t had a proper rant for a while. I’ve been too busy being reflective or trying to be more about having a glass a little bit more than half full. Today my glass is quite empty in figurative terms though, because last night something dramatic happened in television entertainment. When I state what occurred you might wonder ‘why on earth does that matter?’ In respect of what actually happened it doesn’t at all, it is but a trifle, apart from offending my own sense of what is right. But it occurred to me afterwards that this simple yet extraordinary occurrence on a reality television show reflected something far more disturbing.

On the UK version of X-Factor last night Ella Henderson and James Arthur found themselves singing for survival while Rylan and Christopher went through to the next show. Sounds ridiculously trivial doesn’t it? Why does that matter? It matters because Ella and James are a couple of the greatest natural talents to ever appear on the show while Rylan has no talent at all apart from flamboyantly showing off and Christopher is best known for collapsing in  hysterical tears. The public, the general public, prefer the show off and the nervous wreck. The public are allowed to vote. They are also allowed to vote for things that matter.

You may think ‘but it’s just a silly singing contest’ which it is but there is something about this that is far more indicative of where society is heading. I’m confident it will not be too long before we are allowed to cast a vote in general elections online or over the telephone or with the ‘red button’. People are becoming less willing to leave the house to do anything meaningful. Asking an entire public to go to a polling booth does not have long term legs as a means of getting them to cast an opinion. They will be allowed to do it from home and that will mean the decline of civilisation as we know it. The people who breathe with their mouths open and move their lips while trying to read will be able to vote for the politician they find the most amusing, which they will, as they won’t have the first idea of what their politics are. I’m absolutely confident that if you allowed telephone and online voting tomorrow and she was allowed to stand, Kim Kardashian would be President of the United States.

Picture a scene where David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Rylan Clark were the candidates for Prime Minister based on the general public’s telephone voting being the deciding factor? You think I’m kidding don’t you? Think about it just for a moment.

If you think I’m making it up or making a mountain out of a mole hill look back at the last televised debates between those who aspired to be in charge of Britain. David Cameron, the posh boy representing the hated Tory Establishment, Gordoom Brown, the angry man representing the ‘workers’ and the chap with the fresh face and a nice haircut representing the people who didn’t like posh boys from the Establishment or Angry Gordon. The trouble is that The Fresh Faced chap with the nice haircut who seemed so reasonable is now Deputy Prime Minister despite about 75% of people who voted for him having no idea what he stands for. If I was to go to their house and tell them they would have seven fits. If I was to explain to the new Liberal voting public in the last election that the reason Abu Qatada is still in Britain is a direct result of the decisions of people who think the same as Nick Clegg they would actually have a heart attack.

Liberals are liberals, they believe terrorists, rapists and murderers have exactly the same rights as you the voting public. If you also think that, good for you and your beliefs! But I’m concerned that many don’t think that and voted for a bloke who had a pleasant face on television. The people most loudly calling for the immediate eviction of Mr Qatada and the lynching of care home staff in Wales include many who voted for Mr Clegg because he had a nice face and haircut. Careful what you wish for let alone vote for.

(In here used to be a paragraph or two about a controversial issue that I had clarified for the uninformed. But it seems they didn’t like it very much, some even didn’t want to be my friend anymore because of what I wrote! God forbid a work colleague or potential employer might have read it! So I decided that as occasionally stating facts for fun in a mildly controversial fashion is my hobby rather than my day job, I took it out. I’ve censored myself. Sorry about that)

Back to my point on the X-Factor as it kind of rolls on from here. The ignorant are being allowed to decide things based on what amuses them or whichever bandwagon they find the most appealing. Of course the public voting on a televised singing competition should be allowed to choose Rylan because he is the biggest show boater over Ella or James who are amazing musical talents. My point is that this is happening more often and for all the wrong reasons because people vote for the lowest common denominator, the easy option that amuses them in the moment. This must never be allowed to happen for anything that matters. If you assume it never would just look at the last American Presidential Election. Almost half of American voters opted for Governor Mitt Romney! Imagine if Kim Kardashian was standing in his place. She would actually be the President. Careful what you wish, but don’t vote for.

So in conclusion although it seems trivial in the small scheme of things, in reality it’s obvious that X-Factor voters choosing Rylan and Christopher over Ella and James heralds the start of the end of civilisation as we know it.

Careful what you wish and don’t vote for. I must vote in X-Factor next week to save the world from Anarchy.

Categories: Politics, Rants | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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