Thursday, 28 April 2011

Jealous, who me?

"Moral indignation - jealousy with a halo." - HG Wells

I don't really know anything about H.G. Wells other than his books. I have no idea what sort of a personal life he led, but I came across this quote by him and it struck me that he was probably mischievous, liked a good time and had a great sense of humour. A sense of humour can redeem even the greatest of swine while being humourless can make even the nicest personalities hard work.

Lately, I've been experiencing a great deal of indignation, but, none, I hope, which could be construed as of the moral kind.

I was walking down our much-damaged street (earthquake fatiguers alert: turn away now, find another blog or make a nice cuppa for your loved one and/or partner) and this idiot, and I'm being charitable here, sped down our street weaving around all the holes in the road like he was doing an obstacle course at Brands Hatch. Then, unbelievably, he turned around and came back the other way as I yelled ineffectively from the wobbly footpath: "Slow down, you idiot!"

So, be warned, tiki tourers, non-observers of the lowered speed limits, looters and chancers and exploiters of every stripe, my indignation is rising. Not that I can do anything about it. I'm as impotent as Peter Finch's character in Network yelling out of the open window of a high-rise: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to stand for it any more!"

But what you do in your bedrooms, boudoirs or wherever you do it, concerns me not a whit. As they say: "Make love, not war." I'm with HG on that one.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Sadness"

(For William Yang)

From sadness into darkness,
the associations rising in the auditorium
fought down as the house-lights go up,
old habits die hard.
How many times have we been cautioned against
public displays of private grief?

Darkness welcomes sadness,
the sweet release of streaming tears
shed freely on these strange windswept streets.
Tears of memory,
of other darknesses.
Like the darkness that devoured my grandmother
or the darkness of the womb wherein
one of my brothers was damaged by God
or the darkness of a Perth garden where I wept
in the early hours of the morning
and searched the starry firmament
for the star that was surely Don
after he had fled his AIDS-ravaged shell.

If the soul is a river flowing through our procession
of lives, perhaps tears
are the moments when our souls overflow.

I wrote this poem in 1995 after seeing a beautiful show at Downstage Theatre in Wellington called Sadness spoken/performed/illustrated by William Yang, an Australian photographer/performer of Chinese descent. It was essentially a kind of lecture, but that doesn't do justice to the emotional power of the piece, accompanied by slides taken by Yang. It had twin themes of loss and recovery. Yang, a homosexual, had lost many friends during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and he also embarked on a journey into North Queensland to research his Chinese ancestry.

I was deeply moved by this show. It did what the best of theatre does, it elicited an emotional response. I walked home to where I lived in Mt Victoria, crying all the way. When I had completed the poem, I gave a copy to the folk at the Downstage Box Office and they very kindly passed it on to William Yang who sent me a lovely postcard from North Queensland where he was touring the show.

The poet would also like to acknowledge the 1995 Whitireia Poetry Competition in which the poem subsequently won an award. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Pollies like us, baby, we were born to rule (with apologies to Bruce Springsteen)

“I have long been of the opinion that if work were such a splendid thing, the rich would have kept more of it for themselves.” – Bruce Grocott

I came across this quote in the newspaper the other day and it made me think of a news article I heard recently on National Radio (or is it Radio New Zealand National this week?). Greens co-leader, Meteria Turei, was critical of John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minister, for taking an Air Force helicopter to fly him from Auckland to Hamilton (a distance of about 80km, I believe) for a photo opportunity at the Hamilton V8 Supercars race and then fly him back to Auckland so that he could attend a black-tie dinner. His pathetic excuse was that the Governor-General was going to be at the dinner so it would not be acceptable to be late. Turei claimed that Key could have attended both events in a timely fashion by merely using a Crown car. The helicopter, she claimed, was a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money at a time when Key and the governing National party are urging every New Zealand citizen to tighten his or her belt.

Once again, I declare up front that I am a leftist. For most of my life, I’ve not wished to align myself with any political party, but about two years ago I thought the world we were leaving for our children and grandchildren was going to environmental hell-in-a handbasket so I joined the Greens. I’m not active politically in the Greens but I do want to contribute in a small way financially to a cause I feel is very righteous.

Sadly, the vast majority of voters are easily hoodwinked by spin and the baubles of television. Key is their everyman, smiling and affable and deliberately inoffensive. He lets other MPs do his dirty work while he smiles all the while like some country bumpkin at a county fair.

Voters tire of one party and kick them out, regardless of how well they are performing. Helen Clark was a very intelligent, cultured, capable woman and I feel there is a lot of bias against female leaders. They have to be Superwomen before the public will accept them and then the public is deeply suspicious of a female leader. They truly are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Before Helen Clark and Labour lost the last election to Key and National, there were all these people saying it was time for a change. What they neglected to take into account was that a change for change’s sake is not always an improvement. I knew Key and National would play the moderate, non-threatening centrist card to lull voters into a false sense of security. The real right-wing agenda is starting to emerge now though and if they win a second term they will see that as a mandate to push their more right-wing ideologically-driven issues to the fore and make them law.
We are seeing it emerge into the harsh light of day with Gerry Brownlee, the Herman Goering of the National party. He is using the Christchurch earthquakes to accumulate enormous power for himself and he will push a lot of things through that favour his rich cronies, but don’t necessarily bode well for the citizens of Christchurch. A lot of our democratic freedoms will disappear under the guise of “state of emergency powers”. Many citizens already feel that they are not being consulted on the future of their city.

The folk that populate the National party are of the “born to rule” mindset, as is evidenced by Key’s use of the helicopter. He sees the Air Force as his own plaything, at his beck and call.

He made his millions as a currency trader, a parasite, not someone who produced anything of value, not something that advanced the wellbeing of the human race.

Recently, I heard that Key and Bill English, the Minister of Finance, had agreed to loan public money to bail out one of their mates, Brent Impey, because his media conglomerate is in financial trouble. Why aren’t the media all over this like a rash? This is scandalous, this is corrupt, and this is an abuse of power. This is that sense of entitlement coming through, that “born to rule” attitude shining through once again.

This post needs to be bookended by another quote from Charles Bukowski, the American poet:
“The difference between democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.”

I have a sinking feeling that Johnny, Billy and Gerry will be issuing a lot of orders in the weeks, months and (possibly) years to come.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Not God But Close"

Sometimes someone will strike
like lightning in your life,
setting your trees afire and searing their presence
deep into the bark of memory.
Such a one was Michael Parmee.

It was 1968.
Paris was burning, the Chicago Seven were protesting
the first war to be televised
and hippies were celebrating the Summer of Love
in Haight-Ashbury,
but 55 miles north of Auckland
the turmoil of the times did not touch
the sleepy hamlet of Wellsford.
New Zealand was enjoying its fat years as food-bowl
to Mother England
and downsizing, restructuring and employment contracts
were but distant nightmares undreamed.
Wellsford’s raison d’ĂȘtre was farming
and a large primary school catered for townies
and the children of the clover
converging from all points rural
in red and tan Education Department buses.

It was 1968.
I was 11 and our Form One class had a new teacher.
He was young and he radiated energy and joie de vivre.
I do not know where he came from or where he went to,
but for two years he had a profound impact on me.

Michael Parmee brought basketball.
The paraphernalia and American cultural colonisation
were two decades distant
and all he had to ignite our imaginations
was the celebration of speed, power and grace
that is the game of basketball.
It was more than enough.

He showed us the rules and bullrush gave way
to basketball as the preferred unisex pastime.
To go beyond the call of duty was second nature to him
so that he set up and ran a district competition.

In Form Two I had another teacher, but Michael Parmee
continued to illuminate my life.
He came up with the idea that the children
would write an original play and perform it
for the town.
About ten of us, in whom he had discerned
a passion and flair for writing,
were allowed time out of class to meet regularly
in the staff-room under his guidance
to fashion a full-length play from imaginations
still one step ahead
of being socialised into submission.

Brainstorming, seizing on a concept, plotting,
giving our ideas a structure, writing scenes as
individuals and melding them as a group – the creation
of the play was the highlight of each week for me.
And each week Michael Parmee fanned the flames
to burn brighter.
The brushfires he had started in our hearts
now towered the sky with their tongues.

The play completed, he auditioned actors and musicians
and I got a part.
My first experience of the stage
before drama sadly lay dormant for many years.
But at twelve years of age, it is a powerful thing
to see your idea born and nurtured into 3-D.
And it was only when I heard Michael Parmee say,
one night in the wings while witnessing
a minor disaster occur on stage
that I realised he was not God.

We all have those one or two or three teachers that we really remember who had a profound influence on us. Michael Parmee's father was a published poet, Frederick Parmee.

Michael would probably be in his late sixties now. I don't know what he did after he left Wellsford, but I'll bet whatever it was, it was impressive and creative. I hope he is still alive and I hope he has had a great life.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Mandated Looting

You will have to forgive me if many of my blog posts revolve around the earthquake and, if you have “earthquake fatigue”, I completely understand. We get “earthquake fatigue” too here in Christchurch. But, like it or not, the events of September 4 and February 22 have coloured the lives of Christchurch’s citizens in ways they may never have envisaged.

I was out at Amberley, a country town north of Christchurch, on Saturday evening. A friend was having a bonfire and party to reconnect with all her friends as she was an exile from deepest, darkest Bexley (she had to walk away from her house which was very badly damaged and flooded with raw sewerage and liquefaction). Another friend told me about how he and his partner had just been able to retrieve their crushed Toyota Hilux from the Smiths City carpark building. (He joked that it was, when retrieved, very much a “Lowlux”). He told me that an expensive set of snow chains had been looted from the vehicle by the demolition workers and that they had stolen some computer accessories from the glovebox and then crushed that part of the car to cover up their crimes. He was told by the official in charge of the car retrieval that his was a common complaint. Apparently, the demolition workers had thoroughly looted everything they could from all the vehicles before the owners could retrieve their vehicles.

These tales of amorality are widespread through Christchurch. Business owners in the central city had to abandon their premises and many have found when they were eventually able to access their businesses that they have had everything valuable looted. One business owner who knew that demolition workers stole a load of valuable native timber, matai, called it “mandated looting”.

The authorities have done nothing. These demolition workers seem to think they have a right to steal from people with impunity. I think they think that the insurers will pick up the tab, but legally anything in the owners’ premises is theirs until the insurers pay out the owners and then it becomes the property of the insurers. It is NEVER just up for grabs.

Sadly, after the initial rush of post-earthquake nobility from many citizens, and many private citizens and organisations continue to do fantastic things for their communities, the sickening stench of profiteering, looting and exploitation is becoming stronger.

Granted, some demolition companies are behaving well, but any demolition workers found to be looting need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and their companies banned from any further work in the CBD.

Amorality of this kind cannot be allowed to continue and the authorities cannot get away with turning a blind eye or putting the issue in the “too hard” basket.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

This is the link to the Midnight Oil album referenced in Blog Post: "redneck Wonderland"

Redneck Wonderland ( with apologies to Australian band, Midnight Oil)

"Prejudice saves a lot of time, because you can form an opinion without the facts." - Anonymous

In my general quote-encountering life, I came across this quote recently. It is a pity that the author is not attributed because it is a very astute observation.

I had to stop myself just yesterday "saving time". I was driving across a street near where I live and I nearly had an accident which would have been my fault. But there were complicating factors. The street is a wide avenue-type street and town planners in their wisdom have planted the central strip with a large variety of native plants and shrubs. Some of these, like cabbage trees, have grown considerably and have, to an extent, become visual obstructions to the driver's view .

Our neighbourhood is badly earthquake affected and so we are driving slowly by and large to avoid big holes in the road plus there are lots of road construction sites all over the place.

For this particular avenue, you have to be particularly cautious and see that one way is clear, proceed to the centre of the road and try to establish, from among the obscuring foliage, that the other half of the road is clear. I was doing just this when I failed to see a large 4-WD vehicle travelling at speed roaring along the second half. I braked suddenly as the vehicle loomed into my view and, hence, avoided a collision.

This was not good enough for the driver of the 4-WD, however. She made this horrible, aggressive face at me as though I had purposely chosen to point my car into the path of her hurtling chariot.

At that moment, I could have cheerfully pushed her face in. I thought, hang on, I'm supposedly a civilised, polite citizen who abhors violence. Why has she made me so angry that I would like to visit violence on her?

I reasoned that it was her reaction or, as I saw it, over-reaction. If I could have said to her: "Look, the cabbage tree fronds were blocking my view, you were hurtling along over the speed limit and it was just human error. There was nothing intentional and I reacted so quickly that any collision or potential injury scenario was avoided. So why the aggro from you?"

But who knows what she would have said. Probably would have called me "a f..ken idiot."

So this clearly illustrates the quote above. Her prejudice and my prejudice both ignored the facts and a completely unpleasant incident was created where none needed to exist.

Tuesday Poem: "Old Friends"

are like bookmarks
in the narratives of our lives,
we pick up from anywhere
and read on,
the plot twists of their loves,
their triumphs and their sufferings
we follow with avid engagement,
their character flaws and strengths
mirror our own
and the emotional colour wrought
by our shared histories,
suspensefully fractured by our many absences.
Moving inexorably towards denouement,
leaving our children as the sequel.

I got so excited by the Communal Poem coming to fruition that I forgot to post a Tuesday Poem yesterday. So here it is. I thought Old Friends was sort of appropriate because the community of Tuesday Poem poets aren't my old friends, but I think this Blog Community is a very wonderful and supportive one and I'm hoping it will endure for years and years so all the Tuesday Poets can become old friends.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Light in the Loafers (in the nicest possible way)

"We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as other creatures do." - 1972 Only One Earth Conference

I like to have a good title. Titles are important...they might attract or they might detract. I made this title from a hybrid of things said by two famous, international comedians: Robin Williams and Dame Edna Everage (aka Barry Humphries). Robin Williams refers to any gay man as "light in the loafers" and Dame Edna hands out backhanded compliments with the added proviso of "I mean that in the nicest possible way, darling."

I have been coming across quotes a fair bit lately and I found this one above. As far as I can tell, it seems to be a pithy summation of the discussions that must have gone on at this international conference.

Apparently "Only One Earth" was a report prepared for the United Nations and this report provided a conceptual basis for the United Nations Conference on Human Environment, 1972, held in Stockholm.

These were the early days of the environmental movement and indeed environmental concern in general about the effects humans were having on Planet Earth. So nearly 40 years later, how are we doing?

Not all that well, I would hazard to venture. If there was some extraterrestial teacher marking our report card, that teacher would probably write that age-old comment: "Could try harder."

Our world population has shot up, in just over two hundred years, from about a billion people around 1804  to about 6.91 billion in 2011.

You don't need to be a maths whiz to see that is exponential growth. We are too successful as a species and our longer lives and overpopulation of our environment are decreasing the habitats of all the other creatures we share the planet with. I seriously worry that even creatures I knew as a child will be extinct to my children and creatures they know will be unknown to their children.

The so-called "free world" likes to trumpet that Communism failed, but I would argue that true communism never got off the ground or is only found in isolated cases. The closest humans come to the true ideals of Marx and Engels are probably the tribal peoples still living traditional lives in remote pockets of the world. In China and Russia, they only have or had totalitarianism. Yes, folks, George Orwell was right. Human nature seems to crave superiority and status so you always get some "animals are more equal than others".

And capitalism may be in its last throes too. The myth we are sold of constant economic growth is just that: a myth. Nature has cycles, growth and decay. So does capitalism, boom and bust. But it looks increasingly like we have boomed our last booms. It is plain to see for most sensible people that constant economic growth is unsustainable.

We face a simple choice: embrace a much simpler lifestyle and plump for experience and interaction and creativity over material acquisition OR choke in our own filth and environmental degradation.

When all the rivers are poisoned, then WILL we eat our money?

The Communal Tuesday Poem is finished!

I'm impressed and we came in under time.

Can we enter into any Guinness World Record category for this?

Kudos to my fellow Tuesday Poets, those who contributed lines and those who couldn't, but were with us in spirit.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Treat Your Children Well ( I feel a Crosby,Stills, Nash and Young song coming on)

"I praise loudly; I blame softly." - Catherine II

I came across this quote recently by Catherine II. I'm not sure where she was queen of as there were a lot of Catherines floating about European courts in Elizabethan times. But I thought it was extremely modern in its sensibilities.

I don't wish to keep banging on about the Christchurch earthquake, but I recently read a poem in The Press written by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman about lessons learnt from the earthquake. And it's true that as human beings, if we don't learn, it seems we stagnate.

The first earthquake adjusted my perspective somewhat, but the second really dealt to our part of the city and so it has subsequently been more illuminating.

FIRST LESSON: Don't sweat the small stuff. We get waylaid by so many trifles in life that we often lose sight of the big picture. I witnessed a guy really spewing anger at a truck driver that accidentally rear-ended him. The damage was minor, the driver contrite and the man's reaction out of all proportion. A woman nearby said, "Oh, please, get over yourself." and I totally agreed.

If we survived, if we were not injured badly, if our loved ones can still hug and kiss us at night and in the morning, give a smile and say, "Thank you, God/Allah/Buddha (substitute your own deity or atheist superhero a la Richard Dawkins here) for letting me live another day and love and marvel at a sunset or a baby's smile. Anything from here on in is a bonus!"

SECOND LESSON: Try to be kinder to everyone in your life.

I realised that sometimes I was overly critical of my wife or my children and so I have set out to follow Catherine's advice and praise them loudly and maybe not blame them at all if I can help it. I even try to cuddle our cat, Simba, more.

Basically, it is a corny old cliche, but you really don't know if today will be your last. A couple of hundred people got up on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 in Christchurch and never dreamed in their wildest dreams that they would be dead before that day was out. I sincerely hope that they kissed their partners and children that morning and thought how blessed they were to have them in their lives. May they all rest in peace.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Box Brownie Memories" (for my Aunt Gladys)

This is not you that lies before us,
beloved Aunt, for you live on
in our hearts, our souls, our minds
as the raven-haired beauty
with racquet and a ready smile,
as the doting older sister
with eyes shining like a proud spotlight
on two little girls on a crowded stage,
singled out and made special by your love.

You do not lie here cold and lifeless,
beloved Aunt, for you live on
in the warmth of your laughter
and your bright shining lively dancing eyes
and your girlish peaches-and-cream complexion
and in the memories
of two small nephews
in the endless summer of childhood
conquering the diving tower at Jellicoe Baths
or frolicking at Mission Bay
and you capturing all our shared and happy memories
with your trusty Box Brownie.

I wrote this poem as my eulogy to be read at the funeral of my Aunt Gladys who died on Christmas Eve, 1997, aged 90. My mother's two older sisters never married and lived in their original home built from kauri in Epsom, Auckland with my grandmother until, one by one, they died. Gladys was the eldest of four children and was aged 16 when my mother was born. The other sister, Gwendolene, was only two years my mother's senior. My Mum was the baby of the family.

Gwen was working when we would visit Grandma's as children, but Glad had retired and she would give Mum a break by taking us on all sorts of outings. My parents never owned a camera when we were growing up, but, thanks to Glad, many of our growing moments were captured in black and white on her trusty Kodak Box Brownie. My brothers and I loved our Aunty Glad with all our hearts and she loved us very much too.


Monday, 4 April 2011

Tuesday Poem turns One

I know only three people follow my blog and one of them knows already, but I feel compelled to tell you that you can witness the unfolding of a communal poem from tomorrow on Tuesday Poem.

Many of the regular Tuesday Poets will be writing a line or two in a sequential order of poets to create a communal poem to celebrate the first birthday of Tuesday Poem. The poem will unfold like a beautiful bloom from tomorrow, April 5, 2011.

We've even got a Birthday Badge designed by renowned artist and poet, Claire Beynon.

Be There or Be Square.