The Reasonably Merry Month of May
Wednesday May 1st
And so a new month begins. This is our 5th month of the year here, with all its faults it feels like it is flying by. God knows how quick it would have been if we actually had been having a fabulous time. The day begins, as it usually does, with a drive to work. The weather tells me it is definitely autumn and I have a hangover. Ellen’s bike and the boot of the car are interacting over every small bump in the road scraping and screeching like a demented banshee, they are not helping my headache. And yet I think I would rather be here, having this happen in NZ than in England. I have trouble parking the car between the white lines on the car park and settle for about a forty-five degree angle. The chaps look out the window and ask whether I have a hangover. I confirm that I have. My business cards have arrived which gives me some feeling of permanence. Sarah does not have any feeling of permanence because this is her last week with us. She is heading home but will take two months to get there as she is going home via Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and several other places. Ellen, Kate and she went for a drink together last night and realised what a traveller she is. This is the third time she has been to New Zealand, she has worked in the States and worked for Playboy in Australia, she is always going somewhere. Perhaps this is how you are when you come from Ware. Where? Makes you want to travel. She spoke to her dad last night and he said you don’t want to come back here and gave as an example the fact that the trees planted by the folk in the village where he lives had been uprooted by vandals. A fair point except that last week Ellen told me that the trees that had been planted around the special needs unit at her school had been uprooted and the building had been graffitied as a bonus. A world -wide condition it seems.
This was one of my days for travailing to Marton, a small town 35 minutes North of Palmerston. Property is cheaper here and it is altogether more rural, consequently I like the place. As I have a half an hour to kill between appointments I engage in a little fantasising about buying a house. Stupid but fun. I have always envied people like Miriam Margoles, for example, who own houses all around the world. She once described them as her children and she spends her time, when not working, moving from one to the other. I do not know why this appeals to me but it does. So day-dreaming about buying a house here to go with the one in England and our land in Colorado is a little bit of fun. The teacher I have just been talking to is planning on leaving Marton and moving to the South island. They have bought some land to build on and her husband has been granted a crab licence to go alongside his flounder and some other fish I can’t remember licence. She will look for a teaching job there. They have three children, one 11 who is keen to go, one who is 20 who has left home and one who is 16 who has to go but says he won’t go, sounds familiar. She says it will be nice to get away from the rat race. Christ, the South island must be pretty laid back because Marton is hardly New York. Anyway I like it, property is unbelievably cheap by British standards and even by New Zealand standards. I am shown three small houses out in the country with land for $45,000. And they’re open to offers the Estate Agent says, maybe $35,000. That’s about 17,000 pounds. 2,000 deposit, 15,000 mortgage over 5 years at £3,000 a year (we’re paying £5,000 in rent). Makes you think. Admittedly when I went to look at the first house it was right at the side of State Highway 1. You could move it on a lorry though. The second was described as “near the Asylum, but they’ve closed most of it down now”. I just wondered that if they have pursued a community integration policy and have moved most of the patients into the community, what kind of nutter actually was left there. The third house was described to me as “Next to the water treatment bed, but that doesn’t seem to bother anybody.” So maybe not so great. The estate agent thinks New Zealand is a great place to buy a house, when I tell him we would only be interested in buying a place if we decide to stay, he replies that he couldn’t understand why anybody would not want to live here. His grandfather emigrated from Lancashire in 1906. ” I’m so glad he did, I’ve had a wonderful life.” Hmm, I’m not sure that selling houses is so bloody marvellous.
New Zealand does not have that many famous people but one of the ones it does have is Rachel Hunter, ‘supermodel’. On the TV tonight there is a programme about Rachel. Apparently, according to the programme, she needs to be more exposed to the public. Well she has nice tits so l tend to agree. Rachel is too fat for Europe apparently and so has to work in the USA where they like their swimsuit models bigger. Jean Luc Brunet, an agent says “I have found a lot of big girls, but I might not find another.” Certainly I can’t think that Rachel’s cognitive abilities need any more exposure, her advice to would-be models is “It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.” Not only dull, but factually incorrect given the number of girls who become top models as a ratio of those who aspire to it. Rachel also tells this that there are C, B and A models. Useful info. One ‘girl’ who didn’t make it big talks about being in Paris and old French guys hitting on her. “I’ve never been hit on by anybody older than 24 in Canterbury,” she says. She tells of this old French guy who tried to chat her up in a disco. She tells him he is older than her father and the guy replies “yes but I’m richer too.” Good comeback line.
A day of sporting contrasts for the men in the Galvin household. Joe has been told that he has not made the representative basketball team. This must be a blow given that he thought that he would walk into a team over here. At least he is playing for his school team. Bill carries out his one management edict and takes me out on the golf course. He tells me that he is going to clap every time I make a good shot. There is not much clapping. Bill adds to the 23 items proposed by Susan with more of his own – the lipstick kiss, the magic moment in golf, the club laid along the ground, dragging the club head along the ground, rotate the shoulders, your divot tells you a lot. Hope I’m not confusing you he laughs. But the course looks great with the late afternoon sun and I meet a principal of a local school. The classic business connection made on the golf-course. He will be more supportive the next time I meet him in a professional capacity. My main thought is still – golf is hard.
Tonight saw yet another first, my first ever guitar lesson. I have been playing the guitar for about thirty years, but I play the same stuff over and over again – mostly strum-along chords. Now I have decided I want to be Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton or, as Ellen unkindly put it, Eric Knopfler or Mark Clapton. My tutor is called Steve, I got his number from the notice board in Manawatu Music and Sound. It is his door I am now knocking on at 6.30. Or more correctly, his parent’s door. Steve is very young, has a partial goatee beard (where it will grow) and wears his baseball cap back to front. I do not know which one of us is more nervous. I have actually practised in order to go for this lesson, which is a bit like what some people do when they clean their house before the cleaner arrives. He tells me he is hitch-hiking to Polytechnic in Wellington tomorrow where he is studying Tourism and Japanese. I tell him they did not have such courses when I was at university, in medieval times. He asks me what I did, I tell him, I can see respect to you, daddy-o gleam in his eyes. Respect right back at you Steve. The lesson takes place in his bedroom. Cool. He admits that he is rather new to teaching and cannot understand why somebody should come to him for lessons when there are experienced teachers of 30 and 40 around. I encourage him (I thought it was supposed to be the other way around) by telling him that everybody has to start somewhere and if I went to the other lot they would probably want me to read the music. All I want him to do is teach me some flash rifts. Despite the generation gap we get on pretty well. Unless he is lying we have remarkably similar taste in pop music – Neil Young, The Eagles, CSNY, Jackson Brown, Rolling Stones, Little Feet, Lovin’ Spoonful, Simon and Garfunkel (with which we begin) even the Beatles. I learn the A minor pentatonic scale and we jam a little 12 bar blues. Steve said it sounded pretty good. Bloody liar. The lesson lasts longer than the forty minutes and I do not have to pay the $14, because “this one is for free, merry Christmas.” He does not call me ‘man’, but it is close. It must have been hard to pass up the 14 bucks. We agree a date for the next lesson. Steve says he will mark it on his calendar. He circles the 16th. I cannot help but notice that there are no other dates circled. Perhaps he has an appointment book. So, thus far, Thursday has been a quite reasonable day. Little did I know, as I drove home from my lesson, what drama lay ahead.
Is there something about feeling that my emotional well-being is high so I have got the reserves to have a good argument now? Whatever, this is the way it turned out. It was one of those ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ arguments that look so pathetic on paper. I make no apology for running the gamut of emotions from A to B as Dorothy Parker, I believe it was, once said. This is a diary not a psychological study of emotions and the family. Like a good meal this family argument had certain basic ingredients and a lot of garnish. The pastas of the argument were the continuing themes of Kate going out late when she had said she was staying in and Joe being at somebody else’s house rather than his own. Add into this a substantial helping of ‘I’m not appreciated in this family, all I’m good for is earning money and keeping some sort of discipline’ and there is the basic meal. Now throw in a sprinkling of my relationship with the kids is non-existent and yours is only good because you are too nice to them, let them do as they please and you put me in the role of bad guy while you make sure you don’t upset anybody’ and things are really starting to simmer. On top, as garnish, add the difficulty I have getting Joe into bed, with the lights out and off to sleep so we do not have the rigmarole of getting him up each morning. Now simmer overnight on a sofa which is as impossible to sleep on as it is to sit on. This was an important gesture because our bed is no place to sulk elegantly given that it has the habit of rolling both parties into the middle, so the sofa for me. This wasn’t the coldest night of the year thus far but it was the second coldest. All I had was my dressing gown, I stormed into the bedroom and pulled off the top cover off the bed, unfortunately this was only the duvet cover, no duvet in it, but I wasn’t bloody well going back in there, I was in danger of losing dignity. The dishwasher made a hell of a noise in the lounge, I had no idea it went on for so long and somebody was banging in the street. I was cold, squashed and it was noisy and I couldn’t sleep. I would really have liked to have gone back to my bed but by now, I was simmering nicely.
By next morning the whole mixture had set wonderfully. Ellen went off on her bike rather than getting a lift from me as is our usual practice. I take a different route to work (longer) to avoid passing her. How we waste our lives. So I arrive at work, as so many people do, feeling stressed and gloomy and expected to be bright and positive in solving other people’s problems. The question is a) would this argument have happened back home and b) would the outcome have been any different if it had? Yes, although the content might have been a bit different and ‘no’ it would have gone the same tedious way probably. I open our latest Barclaycard bill, it is close to £1,000, higher than it has ever been. This is not a good day so far.
We say bye to Sarah, Bill and I have a couple of beers and Ellen and I meet after her new Friday night yoga class (there are two people in it) at The Celtic and begin a little reparation. With our relationship back on the rails we order pizza and settle down to watch the British BAFTA awards. The pizza proves to be more of a problem than we thought. When Ellen gets there at the appointed hour, it is not ready. It will be ready in 20 minutes. It is not ready in 20 minutes so she gets a $10 refund. It will definitely be ready in 10 minutes. In 10 minutes one pizza is ready but the other pizza has no cheese. They laugh and the manageress apologizes and gives Ellen all her money back. As Ellen is leaving with the one correct pizza, the delivery lady returns with two pizzas that were a wrong order for some other poor sod. The manageress offers Ellen both pizzas, she accepts and the manageress throws in free garlic bread and a bottle of coke. So we now have three pizzas, garlic bread and a bottle of coke, a $10 refund and our money back. Go to Pizza Hut it’s great.
With three pizzas we settle down to watch the TV. I’ll say this, we might be a third rate country these days but our television is bloody marvellous. I cannot think of any other country that does it better. Angus Deayton, Stephen Fry, Helen Mirren, Robbie Coltraine, Paul Merton, Ian Hislop, Helen Mirren, Eddie Izzard, Richard Wilson, Helen Mirren (I really fancy her, even though she does look a bit rough in Prime Suspect). Even Clive James had to go to the UK to succeed. How the hell Father Ted or Tom could win the comedy section I’ll never know. Cracker, Pride and Prejudice, Prime Suspect, The Madness of King George, Princess Anne, good stuff. It made me proud to be British even with Emma Thompson rabbiting on in her ripped dress. It took some American woman gushing on to absolutely ram home how appealing the understated irony which we Brits bring to these occasions actually is. This woman. whose name I cannot remember, was the director of Sense and Sensibility and when she accepted her award she said something like it was testimony to the fact that “this film, like my husband proves that true love is worth waiting for.” I could barely keep down my pizza. So a full day, one that started badly but eventually got back on the rails.
A full day. I start the day with a dream about a chum back home. I think you can tell a lot about where your head is at by paying careful attention to your dreams. Unfortunately I forget most of mine but, as this is one of those early morning sleeping, waking dreams, I remember it. Early in the year most of my dreams were about England, then they entered a strange halfway stage where they were neither England nor New Zealand, a bizarre never-never land. Recently they have been predominantly located in New Zealand. However this one is set in the England to which I have returned at the end of the year. Peter Costa is a lovely chap and a friend but he is also the person most likely to take my place in the professional affections of teachers in Leeds. He is perhaps the one person who is capable of doing what I do as well as I do it. And here he is. In my dream he is no longer completely bald but now has hair, he is slimmer, one side of his shirt is hanging out at the front and a woman, who I do not know, is tucking it back into his trousers. He looks a bit like Demis Russos (sic) and the message is clear. Pete has become a guru in my absence. The bastard.
Kicked off the day proper by watching Joe play football. To be honest, observing him this morning demonstrates that he hasn’t played much. He has got a lot to learn about playing a team game like football. I confess that I have not spent a lot of time watching him play sport especially footy but like all fathers I have served my time on the touchlines of England and born witness to some appalling parental displays. I have heard of parents who have been banned from watching their kids play because their behaviour has been so aggressive. Interestingly these Kiwi parents are remarkably polite. Given the Kiwi passion for sport this is surprising. I have only been there for five minutes when the words “battle, battle, win it win it, get in there son,” and other less pleasant football supporter type terms are all coming back to me. I repress “Come on lad this kid can’t play, Get in there and give him some welly and kick the bastard,” they would be quite out of place in this context. I remember Joe’s first ever game of football when he was at primary school. One of his friends, Danny, took to the field wearing a brand new pair of bright green, canvas, basketball boots. Danny was in midfield, literally. He never moved from the centre circle regardless of where the ball was. He did not want to get any mud on his boots and so he took no part in the game. He ran three or four yards and then stopped to pick the mud off of his boots. The ball went backwards and forwards but Danny remained unconcerned. I thought his father would go apoplectic. I tried to remain calm but it was not easy. I will further observe the Kiwi parent supporter over the coming weeks and compare them with their British counterpart..
I go for my second squash lesson. Smashy has helpfully told Jenny, ‘my coach’, that I do not like to move about the court so she has planned this session around making me do just that. I tell her that my muscles haven’t recovered from last week and she gives me a cheesy grin and continues to shout “drive, boast, cross court, now on the backhand, now forehand, drive, cross court, boast, backhand, forehand, volley, volley.” As is often the way with me, I was worse this time than last time. Nevertheless, Jenny books a court for next week without really asking me if it is OK. She obviously thinks I have hidden depths. I watch a little rugby and return home for a quiet evening. A quiet evening consists of us watching the American equivalent of last night’s BAFTA awards, tonight entitled the Blockbuster awards. It is the usual sentimental, over-the-top, self-congratulatory American hype. Each time a star collects an award the audience screams and wails, even the mere mention of a star’s name, ‘Brad Pitt’ for example, sends the audience into orgasmic raptures. Oh for the understated wit, sarcasm and irony of the British awards. Imagine the compere, Kelsey Grammar saying to one of the losers “and all I can say to you Paul is tough shit,” as Angus Deayton said to Paul Merton last night, or even Emma Thompson saying to Angus “I’ve nothing to say to you Angus, so leave me alone.” Sarcasm maybe the lowest form of wit but it will do for me.
I dream of being on a high building and then, as one dream moves seamlessly into another, I am in a restaurant but I cannot get out, just getting out the door gets me all tangled up and claustrophobic. Ellen and I have a discussion about whether there is a code of ethics for farting in bed. In my view there clearly is. It is bad practice, for example, to fart before or during sex but afterwards is acceptable. You should never fart if you are lying on your side and your bottom is pointing towards your partner. Farting whilst lying on your back or pointing away from your partner is sophisticated behaviour. Letting the fart out of the side of the bed is not always desirable as it might first seem as the wrong draft pattern can send the deadly strain straight up your partners nose. It is better to lie still and keep the sheets and blankets pulled tight around your neck. Never, never fart whilst your partner’s nose is below sheet height or, worse still, invent some false pretext for getting your partner’s head down beneath the sheets and then giving her or him a full blast.
We decide we need some fresh air, can’t think why. It is a beautiful day and we decide to go to the beach. New Zealand has its own form of the Sunday driver but whereas in Britain this would be an elderly driver holding up traffic, in New Zealand it is the young driver trying to wipe out the traffic. Himatangi is too crowded (15 or20 cars) so we drive on to Foxton where you get a better class of motorbike. This is now the equivalent of November but the day is superb, bright, sunny and warm. New Zealanders can be a bit snitty about their West Coast beaches, especially in this area – dirty, full of driftwood and windy. Well we like them. We stroll along the beach, paddle in the still warm water and wander through the sand dunes. There are half a dozen others on this large beach. We read the papers and drink coffee from a flask and eat biscuits and cake. We are simple creatures. I read the literary reviews. A woman called Heather Heberley has written a book entitled ‘Weather Permitting’. Heather lives on Arapawa Island and has done for the last 33 years. This island is in the Marlborough Sounds and is the first bit of land the ferry passes on its northern side. It can only be reached by boat and it is about as isolated as you can get. When Heather told her husband she was writing a book he was incredulous because nothing has ever happened to her, he reckons, other than her educating her 4 children through that marvellous distance learning course, The Correspondence School. Heather did do something else, she took a writing course and her tutor gave her, what I thought was, excellent advice “If something happens. write it down.” The drive back to Palmy is marvellous, the setting sun turns the Tararua Ranges the colour and shape of broken, strawberry and orange blancmange. The sky is so red that it makes a Turner painting seem casual. As the sun sets in five minutes the sky has gone from red to black. The exact opposite of our bank account. A beautiful relaxing day, just like we thought New Zealand would be.
The week begins with a drive out to the local army camp school. This school has its own problems like father’s returning from Bosnia and all the stresses and strains this absence and their return put on their families. On returning home to New Zealand the peace-keepers were debriefed and offered counselling for the horrific sights they saw, but apparently the greatest stress was sheer boredom and the continuing knowledge that something might happen. Over the last fortnight the soldiers have been up North near Wanganui playing war games and, I am told, even this relatively short absence with limited danger can take a toll on families. We talk about grief counselling, trauma, suicide and death, all quite at odds with the beautiful day outside. The 15 minute drive back to town is uplifting, I sit for a while looking at the ranges, today green and pastoral. I chair my first centre meeting. I’m probably too flippant and crack too many jokes but then they shouldn’t have appointed me should they?
A quiet New Zealand Monday evening at home, which consists of me reading Kate’s Woman’s Weekly magazine. You can tell we’re on the Pacific rim, there is a regular letters column about Feng Shui -the ancient Chinese art of furniture arranging. One example: “We love our home which overlooks a busy road but since living here we’ve been burgled. We’d like to feel that our haven is more secure.” Answer “You can improve the Feng Shui by hanging a large red tassel in the lounge area which has exposed beams. You must hang two wind chimes – one just inside and one just outside the front door. Move the settee away from the front door so that no-one sits with their back to the door and so the burglars don’t trip over it (actually that last bit was mine).”
Also another letters page where questions are answered by a ‘psychic’. This is much better than the usual problem page. An example: “My husband has always been used to being his own boss and working alone. Now he has been forced to take a job working for an old friend. They have already clashed a few times and I don’t think it will work out. What do you think?” Answer: “Your husband’s fearful temper is going to cause him no end of trouble. He’ll be forced out of the job after several of his workmates have been on the receiving end of his fist. You won’t be putting up with much more of him either.” Blimey, it just makes me realise how dull my advice giving has been. From now on I’ll try and be a bit more original. “My son has a spelling problem, can you help?” Answer: “Dear Mrs Buggins, your son’s drug-taking, alcohol abuse and embezzlement of school funds is going to get him into trouble. Remove him from the school preferably to one in another country and never ever speak to him again. Also shoot your next eldest son just in case.” Yep, much better. This magazine does have the best bit of advice I have ever seen on having a long and happy sex/love life. “Do different things with the same person rather than the same thing with different people.” Wise words I reckon.
More marvellous examples of human interaction which are supporting my developing theory that Kiwis may be not the best communicators in the world. Communication is my theme for today. Today was the second psychologist’s professional development day which meant an hours drive to Wanganui. As it turned out this was completely unnecessary because the people that were coming from North of Wanganui, from New Plymouth and Hawera were ill, so we could have stayed in Palmy. Unfortunately nobody communicated this to us so off we set. We left Palmy at 9 o’clock and duly arrived at 10. It then took us another 30 minutes to find the place where the meeting was being held. Eddie had told Adrian that the place was called Lazy Acres and that it was past the park on the right. After 20 minutes searching we could not find it so we stopped at a cafe and I asked this chap, who was making sandwiches, if he knew where Lazy Acres was. He replied that he did not but he knew a place called Green Acres. “I’ll look the address up in the telephone book,” he said. Well it turned out that this was actually Green Meadows. “That’s rather a long way from Lazy Acres,” I said. He looked at me suspiciously, “so you know where it is do you?” No I meant that the name is a long way from Lazy Acres, never mind, thanks anyway.” I left. We went to the area office and got a guide. When we got there it turned out that the place was called Quaker Acres. Eddie explained that he thought Adrian had been there before, Adrian said he never had. This late start meant the timetable for the day was as follows:
9.00 Leave Palmy.
9.00 – 10.00 Drive to Wanganui
10.00 -10.30 Try to find meeting place via area office.
10.30- 10.50 Arrive at place and talk about getting lost, what a nice place this is and have coffee
10.50- 11.05 Listen to Eddie explain why he doesn’t know what we’re doing because Grant who is running the day, is ill.
11.05 – 11.15 Aimless discussion about our role.
11.45 Eddie suggests we break for lunch because unless we go now we will be at the back of the queue.
11.45 – 12.00 Talk about lunch and going to lunch
12.00 – 1.20 Have lunch and we are at the back of the queue in a restaurant that is far away as possible from the meeting place and still be in Wanganui. Lunch is notable for three other small examples of communication or the lack of it. Example 1: Eddie says “how are things going in school x?” I reply, “It’s too soon to say yet, I’ll let you know.” Eddie replies “is it really.” Example 2: The restaurant is called The Rutland Arms and on the wall are photographs of other places in the world called the Rutland Arms. As coincidence would have it one is a photograph of a pub in Bakewell, Derbyshire near where Ellen and I were born. I say to Eddie, that is a photograph of a pub near where we were born. Eddie does not say a word but stands immediately and walks over to the photo. I am stunned I have never known him respond to anything I have said with such interest. He walks straight past the photo, ignoring it completely and goes to get his pudding. The third small example of the ‘I don’t give a flying tuck what you are saying’ mode of communication is with a female member of our party. She is describing the time she spent in London. “We were shopping all morning,” she says “and then when we went for lunch we found the pubs shut at 2.30, I expect it is still the same.” “Oh no,” I helpfully point out, “they are open all day now.” Without a pause she continues, “we bought some lovely things..” Excuse me did I just speak or was I merely farting? Any chance at all of an acknowledgement of what I have just said? Like, “Oh that’s good,” or “Well about time,” or even “that’s very interesting but don’t fucking well interrupt me when I’m speaking, you English scumbag.” Anything at all really. But no, nothing, zero, nil, nada, not even the merest pause in her breathing and her delivery to indicate that I exist as anything other than an inanimate object to be pointing at. I have my first plate of wedgies in a week full of wedgies. This is the highlight of my lunch.
1.20 – 1.30 Drive back from restaurant the scenic route with Eddie pointing out from his car in front, what are presumably the high spots of Wanganui. I realise that he is actually a better communicator when you cannot here what he is saying or at least as good.
1.30 – 1.45 Have coffee
1.45 – 2.45 Further aimless discussion
2.45 – 3.15 Eddie says we have done a good job and we should think about finishing. Talk about finishing
3.15 – 3.30 Go to toilet and generally get ready to go
3.30 – 4.30 Drive home.
Smashy and I go out for our usual Tuesday pint. Nobody could possibly say I haven’t earned it. By way of communication we talk of golf and performance related pay, is it a good thing? The level of the debate is a bit like “Men Behaving Badly.” We agree it might be but, after 8 pints our communication skills become a bit impaired, we put this down to the fact that the next room is being varnished and the smell is making us feel woozy. Nothing to do with the 8 pints. All in all a heck of a day.
I awake realising I have had my ‘worst in-service presentation nightmare’ again. It’s the one where I stand up in front of a large audience about to speak and I can’t find the right overheads. A sure sign of my increasing anxiety about tomorrow’s presentation to the school principals. Other news on the domestic front, Kate’s love life is in ruins, she is back to Sheila the dog. Joe is ill but refusing to cancel any social engagements.
Never, never gloat. I have to say that when Mad Cow hit the headlines here there were one or two people who rubbed their hands together with glee because they could see a gap in the beef market which could be filled with certifiably sane Kiwi beef. Not all folk, but some. Now New Zealand has its own version but in this case it is called Mad Fruit Fly disease (it has always had mad car driver disease). The bottom line is that countries are now banning exports of Kiwi fruit in order that their bees and bushes do not become infected with what is presumably a voracious pest. This could be serious stuff, the fruit export business is worth $1.4billion although a spokesman thinks the loss will only be $150 to $200 million. That’s OK then. Politicians here are currently working hard to get the ban lifted. We think our TV cameras are intrusive upon the misfortunes of others – the accused being arrested, crying sports stars, how did it feel when the train wiped out your whole family? – that sort of thing. Here it is worse, today’s victims are a Korean couple who had brought some infected (with fruit fly) fruit through customs in a bag. Clearly a serious crime, the couple were filmed coming out of the courtroom, walking down the street, getting onto a bus, anymore and they would have had a nice home movie of their whole trip. They looked a little bemused but had worked out, given the level of public outrage, that this would not be the time to wave to the cameras and utter whatever the equivalent of “Hello, Mom.” is in Korean
After Asian immigration the second biggest issue in New Zealand this year seems to be the Treaty of Waitangi. I suspect it would have comfortably taken first place until the recent angst about Asians taking houses, land and jobs. Nevertheless it is still a hot issue judging by the letters column of the Dominion. The treaty was signed by Maori and the British at Waitangi on Wednesday, 5th February, 1840. In essence Maori believe that the treaty between them and the British was designed to protect their sovereignty and assure Maori control over the resources of that land and that subsequently Pakeha (the original British settlers, their descendants and subsequent immigrants of mainly European descent) have reneged on their commitments in the treaty. Maori are pretty pissed off about this and are demanding land that they see as rightfully theirs be returned to their control. The Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal was established to oversee the process of returning land to Maori. Maori think that the Tribunal moves far too slowly and, in some cases, have occupied land and staged protests (or riots if you happen to be Pakeha) to increase the pressure on the government to move more quickly. Some Pakeha don’t see it that way and believe that the tribunal is moving too quickly in giving away their heritage. Richard Prebble (ex-politician) was on TV tonight complaining that the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal is ineffective in settling Maori land claims and should be replaced by a team of Pakeha judges. As a result, he is accused of being a racist. He, in turn, suggests that anybody who complains about what is happening in the reclaiming of land is immediately branded a racist and nobody is allowed to debate the issue. The programme has a female member of the opposition who says something like “why are you, a pakeha, representing your party in this matter, why haven’t you got Donna Awatere (a Maori) here? Furthermore, with respect, your party is full of shit.” To which Richard replies, “there’s no respect in that remark.” “Also” she says, “why did your party sell Tranz Rail?” “I’m not responding to that,” says a somewhat ruffled Richard, “but I would like to say that..” “I’m sorry we’re out of time.” says the interviewer.
Just to end the evening on a lighter note (lighter than the heavy note of my second plate of wedgies), I found an ode to chocolate “20 Reasons why chocolate is better than sex” on Leo’s desk. I thought it was pretty funny so I took a photocopy of it. Some of my favourites are ‘chocolate satisfies even when it has gone soft,’ “If you love me you’ll swallow that” has real meaning with chocolate, ‘you can have chocolate on your desk during work hours without bothering your workmates.’
This morning sees me appearing before the Palmerston and beyond school principals. Quite an important presentation given that these people will determine whether I work in their schools specifically and this area generally. Consequently, I am a little nervous. They present a formidable picture, approximately 35, mostly male principals, in surprisingly grey suits. This kind of presentation is rather like the Christians and the lions or numerically like one lone batsman facing the West Indian cricket team. Always a nervous starter, I open my innings with what is usually a solid prod into the covers, i.e, my first joke which usually gets a laugh. An odd titter but mostly silence. Hmm, this could be hard. I set my stall out for a long innings. I get the occasional half-volley I step forward to confidently strike it through the covers. Their fielders swoop on the ball, pick it up and throw in it over the stumps nearly running me out off my best shot. In other words my best joke doesn’t get a result. There is the usual mixture of bouncers, apparently friendly full-tosses which turn out to be the slow yorker and one or two juicy half-volleys that I despatch. As my innings builds I become more confident/reckless and bugger this becomes my motto, if they don’t like me, tough titties.
I finish the game one nil up, to switch sports. A tough opposition, away from home and a workmanlike performance sees me get a result – just. At least this is my view, only time will tell whether I really did take home the points. After the game over lunch they are of course all charm, “enjoyed that, very stimulating, most interesting,” why the bloody hell couldn’t you have said that during the game I wonder, “thanks very much.” I reply. Smashy, who is there in his capacity as a principal and who had helped me out by asking me a question when all around where silent, tries to persuade me to play truant and go boozing. Sadly I have to decline his kind invitation because I have another tricky meeting in the afternoon which I cannot avoid. More of this at a later date.
Four months after we arrived we are now the proud owners of a video. All this crap I said when we first got here about minimalism, how one could strip one’s life down to the bare essentials, how I never realised how little one needed to live and how releasing it is to feel unencumbered with worldly goods and chattels, materials possessions, the crutches of the capitalist society. Well that’s all a load of bullocks. The family is very happy to acquire a video and, for a short while (about 11 and a half minutes), I am a hero in my own home, a proper father bringing to my family the basics, food, warmth and a video. Notice the word acquired because the pedigree of this particular video is unclear and I have the strong impression it is hookey goods mainly because it arrives without a remote, a plug or a connecting lead and because the person who lent it me who shall remain nameless in case the Palmy police read this diary, was extremely vague about how he or she got it. The Galvins could not care less, we have a video, now we can go to the video shop like we did back home, borrow the occasional blue movie and, most important of all, watch the Beatles Anthology the Turners sent us three and a half months ago. Bliss indeed. And this on the night when the X Files feature Rockville, Maryland, the little known American town outside Washington DC where we spent our first year abroad 17 years ago.
All I can say about today is that is has been a funny old day. After all it is not often that you are offered to chance of promotion when you have only been in the job for 4 months or that you come across a pile of blue movies that you decide to borrow or that somebody you thought didn’t like you pays you a compliment or that you get a tummy bug. And this morning we had the first real frost of the year. All this and more happens today.
Glenice suggests she would very much like me to stay another year and offers by way of enticement the prospect of a deputy manager’s job in Taranaki. I am flattered but it would mean uprooting again and moving to New Plymouth which Smashy describes as dead and dying. I must go and have a look at the place at least but it does not really feel like an option. The other alternative would be to stay for a second year in which case, in line with the deal being offered the Australian psychologists, SES would reimburse me for my travel costs getting over here and getting home. This would be a tidy sum and not to be scoffed at, probably about $15,000 in total. Definitely not to be scoffed at. I tell Glenice I am pleased to have positive feedback about my contribution thus far but I could not commit myself to any extension of the contract, there are too many variables – will my LEA extend my leave of absence? what the kids want to do? the finances, my mother, Ellen’s folks, our mates back home, job options at home, superannuation, tax, visas and so on and on. Still, aren’t I popular? Even Adrian paid me a compliment according to Ellen, not to my face obviously but I think he said that we were alike in valuing bluntness and honesty. I’m not sure I am particularly honest or blunt. I wondered if you are told you are something does that make you more likely that you will be that something. It depends on where your locus of control is.
Now the tale of the blue movies. Next to our office is an unoccupied office which is usually locked. For some reason the last couple of days it has been open. Consumed with curiosity I thought no harm would be caused by my having a look inside. Inside this huge, empty office stacked away in one corner was several boxes of videos, probably two or three hundred in all. I idly looked through the boxes, like you do and there blow me, if you’ll pardon the expression, amongst The Graduate. Midnight Cowboy etc. were about a dozen blue movies. Nothing heavy you understand but, in a fit of unintelligent thinking, I decided nobody would mind if I borrowed them over the weekend and then returned them on Monday. I carefully hatched my plan and smuggled 3 of them out in a box file. Then I left them in my office and went out to lunch with Bill, Big John and Leo. It must have been something to do with the change of air because as lunch (my third meal of wedgies) proceeded I began to realise the foolishness of what I had done. My anxiety grew to the point of busting and as soon as I got back to the office I went to the box file to smuggle them back. Was it my imagination but was the file in a slightly different position to where I had left it? Was there a strange look in Leo’s eyes as I entered our office? Why had Leo just returned from seeing Glenice? Is my promotion offer now rescinded? Am I paranoid? Should I present myself at the police station and confess? Bloody hell I hope I never commit a real crime I don’t think I’m cut out for the ice-cool exterior and the complete lack of moral scruples bit. I returned the videos but still could not get over the feeling that everybody in the office knew what I had done. Never again.
After going out for lunch we are invited out for ‘tea’ (i.e. an evening meal) by Mike and Anne. I stop off at Orleans for a quick drink with Bill, we are joined by Brenda and I unwisely choose this moment to tell Bill that his freezer is not working. Brenda points out to us both that she told us not to lie the freezer on its side when we moved it. We go to Pompeii Pizza, which is OK, because it’s been a while since we have been there but I am still full from lunchtime. I manage to eat a pizza and drink a lot of wine and we have a very pleasant evening. Mike is one of the few people I know who is conspicuously bright and makes me feel stupid. I find I tend to either say very little or I tell stories, some of them are OK but often they are contrived and not at all interesting. I had better keep on good terms because I might need him to defend me if I get arrested for video theft. Mike by contrast tells this nice story about when he and Adrian and a group of others were learning Maori. The tutor asked Adrian a question that he did not understand and Mike, knowing more than Adrian whispered the answer which Adrian duly repeated back to the amazed tutor. What Mike had said was simply to repeat the names of a number of Maori place names. Something like “What time is it now?” To which Adrian replied the equivalent of “Basingstoke, Chichester, Otley and Harrogate.” By the time I get home the tension ‘excitement of the day plus the huge amount of food I have stuffed down my throat combine to give me stomach ache. I end the day by having the most.. Never mind, suffice it to say I go to bed in a little discomfort. The Catholic in me says and so you should. I’m sorry God. I’ll never be bad again.
My stomach is still a little off-colour and I am feeling somewhat delicate. Nevertheless, it being a Saturday morning Ellen and I decide to begin the weekend with a little gentle conjugal interaction. We are interrupted by the sound of some pillock cutting their lawn very early in the morning. What idiot would do that? It sounds very close it almost sounds like our lawn that is being cut. We look out the window and it is our lawn. It is John “fuck ’em mate” Lucasen complete with walkman and earmuffs zooming up and down the lawn. No phone call, no knock, just doing it. So far so good but then I make two mistakes one after the other. The first is in allowing, perhaps even encouraging, Sheila the dog to remain and play ball, (I kick it she fetches it), the second is when I ask John if I can help. He allows me to take over the machine. This leaves John and Sheila unoccupied. As I am pushing the mower away from the house I hear a bang but through the noise of the mower and the ear muffs it is not a very loud bang. I think little of it. As I turn the mower back towards the house there stands Big John with a sickly grin on his face, there is no sign of the ball and Sheila is looking at the house. What is wrong with this picture? The significance of this tableaux is still not clear to me until John points towards Kate’s window or more specifically at the hole in it. John, whilst playing with Sheila, has kicked the ball through the window. Kate who was sleeping inches from where the ball and glass now rest is staring in horror out of one window, Ellen is staring in horror out of another. “She’ll be right, mate,” says John brightly and follows this up a few minutes later with a more thoughtful “Shit happens ” John says he will get somebody round to fix it (and he does). I am now late for Joe’s football game. I arrive well into the second half, he has scored his first goal in New Zealand and I have missed it. About ten minutes later he is substituted. The day is not going great.
My third squash lesson. Jenny has abandoned her headscarf and no longer looks like a member of the Brethren. She tells me no more lessons until I have had a few games and she has fixed me up with a game with this guy who is also the cleaner. I’m immensely flattered. If I lose it could give new meaning to the phrase ‘being taken to the cleaners’. I came off the court feeling quite pleased with myself and, as I had some time to kill waiting for Ellen, I watched a couple of other club members playing a game. It was depressing. I felt like the kid who has just learned to read a few words and then sits next to some Smart Alec kid reading The Encyclopaedia Britannic. All of us whose job is to teach others should periodically put ourselves in the position of feeling like a stupid learner, Whilst I am having my lesson in humiliation Ellen is giving a massage to a 84 year old lady. She gets a bit of a surprise when she gets to the feet, on one foot she has four toes and on the other three. Fortunately she does not ask for a reduction and Ellen earns $20!
In the evening we go round to Mike and Marianne’s for our first proper dinner party. lunches, barbeques, buffets not withstanding. Mike cooks an excellent meal, he is one of those talented bastards that does a number of things well and cooking is one of them. We have an omelette based roulade surrounded by a coulis (tomato sauce to you and me), followed by stuffed chicken breast with yams, leeks with roasted garlic and sliced potatoes. Ellen did the pudding – special chocolate desert. This was accompanied by three bottles of different OZ Cab Sav and NZ Chardonnay. Good hey? Mike and I finished with a sweet dessert wine and a cigar which made me turn a bit grey apparently. I used to smoke three or four cigars a week in England but this is only my second in four months consequently inhaling made me feel a little queasy. At least I didn’t take Smashy up on his offer to smoke some grass. I’ll have to omit this bit at a later point. Smoking dope is far more common here than back home. As Smashy said “we grow some of the best dope in the world, and I’ve tried most of them ” it is a cottage industry here with the dope being grown in remote country areas and then sold in the city. Nobody thinks it is a very serious crime even though it is illegal. I remember my last dope smoking episodes in St Louis, USA when I tried to fly off the top of a three storey apartment block. Anyway the cigar has made me feel spaced out enough for tonight. especially given that, although it is now nearly midnight, the night is, as they say, young. Although we are not.
To round off what has been two somewhat bizarre days we leave Mike and Marianne about one o’ clock and Ellen drops me off at the cinema in the middle of town to watch the FA Cup Final. Now I have been watching the FA Cup Final for the last 30 odd years but I have never watched it in a cinema in the middle of the night. Kick off time is two in the morning and I get to bed at 4 30. The Evening Standard have put on the evening and there are about fifteen of us drinking our way through the night. I am the only rabidly anti Man U fan which probably puzzles some people. Unfortunately all my venom is in vain. That talented Froggie bastard Eric ‘I am a seagull’, scores five minutes from the end. I am knackered, Man Utd have won and achieved the historic double, double, the picture on the screen is terrible and Ellen has to get out of bed in the middle of the night to come and pick me up. I get to bed feeling like cack but I am pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in this uniquely Kiwi sporting celebration. At least I don’t have to wake up in an England in which Man Utd are our most successful team. Good night.
As a result of last night I make a very late start to today. I started to read the papers but this made me feel like going back to bed again so we decided to go into town and buy a small and cheap mini hi-fi system (if that is what they arc still called). Only about £75 but yet another pathetic prop in a capitalist society. Stuff like this – TVs, stereos, CDs, white goods are cheaper here so this is one area where the cost of living is cheaper. Eating out is another, housing definitely another, cars are more expensive and petrol is about the same. Vegetables are cheaper, bread is more expensive, toilet rolls, toothpaste, chocolate and biscuits even more expensive, other groceries generally about the same, cinema, travel by plane and boat expensive, by train and bus less expensive. Anyway I digress from the events of the day. The most important aspect of this purchase was that our Warehouse credit card was rejected as we are over our credit rating of $500, yet more evidence of the state of our debt. We are quite depressed by this and so go ahead with the purchase to cheer ourselves up.
We need an experience that is free, where better than an art gallery? So the next event of the day was a visit to the Manawatu Art Gallery. Two interesting exhibitions one about the recent buildings of Palmy and the other about the history of advertising in New Zealand. This is a topic that the average Kiwi has a better than average chance to study given that adverts take up one hell of a lot of time. You get about 9 minutes of TV to nearly 5 minutes of adverts at the latter end of some programmes Not all the good citizens of Palmy think this is an interesting exhibition, buildings and adverts aren’t art is the most commonly expressed view according to the woman behind the counter. “We get all the abuse,” she says, “and we only work weekends.” There is some sort of logic there but I’m not clear what it is. As the exhibition catalogue says, given the pitifully little use that New Zealand makes of its own drama, adverts tell us a lot about New Zealand. They tell us that the, white, middle class nuclear family and young heterosexual couple are still the people to sell to. Lesbians, gay men and ethnic minority ‘are all too invisible on our screens.’ There are the usual advertising themes that you would expect to see in any first world country – the family, pets, new improved products, squeaky clean things, forbidden pleasures (chocolate), new inventions. One exception to this, predictably, are ads like Lotto, Toyota, ANZ Bank, which sell by promoting New Zealand as the ‘Great Big Melting Pot’, the one country, one people theme. Bloody convincing it is too. The other theme is Kiwi icons. These adverts tell us a lot about how ad men think that New Zealanders see themselves. Given the success of the marketing campaigns they have got it right. The McDonald’s Kiwiburger presents probably the best potted version of New Zealand and its people all in the space of two or three minutes.
I awake quite early and my mind runs on like it does at this hour. I have been dreaming of back home. I even go back to my childhood in the East Midlands and muse for a while on how far I have come, physically if not emotionally. For some reason I think of D.H. Lawrence who lived and wrote a couple of miles from where I was born in Heanor, Derbyshire (he was born in Eastwood, Notts, two miles away). This must somehow have put me in a literary frame of mind because I lie in bed and start trying to write in my head a ‘poetic’ sentence about the cold air in the bedroom. The cold air came in, the cold air crept in, the cold air entered the room and wrapped itself around my face, not bad! more poetry, the cold air entered the room and wrapped itself around my face like cold milk, the cold air came in like cold milk, like cold cream, like cold blancmange, like cold cheese, the cold air came in and wrapped itself round my face like cold cream, no that sounds like Ponds, cold milk is better but then that’s two ‘colds’ in one sentence, one cold too many. I know, ‘it was bloody cold in the bedroom this morning’, a sure sign that it is getting colder. The whole things reminds me of one of my favourite adverts. It is the Heineken advert where Wordsworth is walking round the Lake District trying to write his daffodil poem. “l walked around on my own for a bit, no that’s no good,” he says. “I went outside for a walk and there was nobody else there, no, no good” Then he takes a swig of Heineken ( the beer that refreshes the parts that other beers can’t reach) and he comes up with “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” etc. Bloody marvellous, and people think that adverts aren’t art.
As I am driving to work it occurs to me that we are in our third age in Palmy. First age, the settling in, what have we done? phase. Second age, well, it’s getting better, maybe it wasn’t such a silly idea phase. Now we are into a Third age of this is as good as it is going to get because the fourth age is thinking about going back and the Fifth age is actually getting ready to go back. The moral being that we had better enjoy this bit whilst we can. I am not sure why I feel positive at this stage because when I look objectively at key aspects of our life here: finances – worse than in England; social life – worse than in England; house – worse than in England, Ellen’s job – better than in England; Kate and Joe’s lives -marginally worse than in England (because Kate’s job is not as good and Joe’s school is different); my job – about the same as in England. That is one and half out of six by my calculations, a success rate of approximately 25%. Not logical Jim.
Holmes in top form again after the death of two Kiwi clambers on Everest. “Did you get a sense of being higher than anybody else?” he asked of two who had done it and survived, and “you must have some pretty big emotions tonight,” he says to Sir Edmond Hilary’s son Peter, “would you like to tell us about them?”
Talking of big emotions, I was driving out to Marton and Harry Chapin’s song Cat’s in the Cradle or something like that came on the radio. I have always vaguely liked the song but never really listened to the words but now as I drive through the hinterlands of the Manawatu I have time to study the lyrics They are about a son wanting to grow up like his dad but his dad never has any time for the son because he is always doing important things. Then the son grows up gets a career, the dad gets lonely and then the son has no time for his dad because he has grown up just like him. Corny, I know but for some reason the bloody song moved me to tears because it made me think of Joe and how little time we spend together. I could hardly see the road.
A rare opportunity to juxtapose Britain’s and New Zealand’s attitudes to serving the public. It comes from me calling the international operator to try and get the number of my sports psychologist chum in England to see if the book I wrote a chapter in is due to be published. Name please? the Kiwi operator asks. Butler, Richard” “Address? Sorry I don’t have the address but it is in Leeds.” “Just hold a moment,” the nice Kiwi lady says She calls the British operator, “UK operator” the difference in tone is, shall we say. marked, like yes, what do you want, do you have to keep calling me? But you are the operator, I really don’t see what that’s got to do with it, hurry up I haven’t got all night. I mean is it the middle of the night? Have I woken her?, No, it is about 4 at night. Is her job exceptionally stressful? maybe, is it her period? has she just had an argument with her husband? Is she just a bad tempered old cow or is this British service at its finest? The polite Kiwi lady relays my, sadly inadequate, information to her British counterpart. They are side by side technologically but both completely rooted in their own cultures. I already have a sense of foreboding. I’ve got a whole page of Butlers,” the UK operator snaps. “I can’t possibly go through them all.” End of communication. “OK, Thank you, Goodbye.” The ‘nice’ Kiwi lady, presumably not realising that I had heard what the British battleaxe said, translates the message for me in flavour but in a different tone, “I’m very sorry but we can’t get that number with the information you have, we need an address you see. I toy briefly with the idea of asking her if I can speak to Eva Braun so I may convey how helpful she has been but decide just to put it down as an interesting sociological experiment. This little interchange annoys me for quite a large part of the morning.
Tonight I went to an introductory course on Sports Psychology. I knew it would be below my level’ but I thought it would give me some idea of where sports psych is at in New Zealand. If I had some idea of this then I could decide whether I should try and get my own area of interest off the ground. Unfortunately the person running the session was Jane, a trim triathlete from London, England, over in New Zealand for a year and, truth be told, she was not a sports psychologist so I didn’t learn a whole lot but it did give me an opportunity to study the audience. There were 27 of them, so quite a popular subject it would seem. 27 at $12 a time is $324, so reasonably profitable. The problem was that about 20 of the audience seemed to be under 10. The rest were a mixture from a woman of about 60 who was the president of the woman’s bowls federation, there was the manager of the New Zealand Woman’s Basketball team, the manager of a rugby team, two Gaelic footballers, an elderly runner, a couple of rugby players. I knew this because we all had to introduce ourselves and say what sport we played This put me in something of a dilemma because I did not want to say I was a psychologist/all round smart arse. I ended up saying I was just an interested bystander, pretty cool, hey?
However, having nicely kept a low profile at this early stage this was not the end of my quandaries for the evening. Anybody know anything about goal setting? asked Jane ( who kept talking about arousal, and about the dangers of getting over-aroused, as Jane was quite tasty I had to fight against the image of Jane getting over-aroused, but I could not get rid of the thought that I would like to have been there when she was – I digress). Back to goal-setting. Yep, I thought. I know a lot about goal setting but, should I say that I do and risk the smart arse label and another British one as well? Are these two in competition with each other? Are they in danger of getting over-aroused? But if I said nothing people would never know how clever I was and how much more than Jane I actually knew. Also, and this is true, I had hoped that I might network with somebody who might be interested in using my ‘developing a successful culture in sport’ services. Actually, I just made that up. Sounds good. So if I don’t say anything the chances of networking other than by telepathy must be remote. So I took a deep breath and said my piece, I was amazed at how nervous I was, did my voice sound wobbly. What a prat, not only a smart arse but a nervous one at that. Still, no going back now. “Yes, Jane, I do actually, I have found, Blah, blah, yack. yack, successful goals are, yatter, yatter, drone, drone, best set ….. Sometimes when I get an unfriendly reaction it makes me go quiet but sometimes it just makes me worse. Guess which this was! I hope she doesn’t think that I fancy her, that really would be sad, the only bald, fat, forty-seven year old bloke in a room full of young testosterone.
Casting caution to the wind I plow on. I do the same thing when she asks us about anxiety levels (I really do know about these because, at this stage, mine are off the scale) and cognitive restructuring. The funny thing is that I really do know something about these areas but that, of course, is not the point. When you are presenting something and you ask the audience for comments or questions you only want those that enable you to look good. Right now I wasn’t making Jane look good but she did have the comfort of knowing that I was making myself look even worse. I don’t know what effect my little speeches had on the rest of the group, I only had eyes for Jane. The rest of the audience did chip in between my outpourings. The elderly athlete said something that seemed to be in English, I recognized all the words but not in the order he used them. I didn’t realise that you could get brain damage from running. The bowls lady said that sport must be fun. Actually of all the people in the room she looked the last one who might be having fun. The rugby manager said he couldn’t believe how violent rugby had become since he stopped playing and he was talking about the pre-match talk. The club he had recently begun to manage, he said, regularly saw players physically and verbally abused by their coach at the pre-match pep talk. The coach’s motivational style amounted to “you’re a useless fuckwit, what are you?” He reckoned that this kind of bullshit, top-down, macho, go out there and kick the shit out of them, management style was long gone from industry and commerce and shouldn’t be in sport either. A lot of agreement from folk about how much more aggressive rugby (and other sports) were in New Zealand. Personally I never noticed a lot of kindness from the All-Blacks on the field in years gone by. Oh, I’m sorry, but I appear to have my finger in your eye/ I’m sorry a part of your ear seems to be in my mouth, I say old chap I’ve just realised that it was your head I’ve just imprinted my stud marks on, without hair it looked just like the ball. As I listened to this I couldn’t help thinking that we are reputed to be living to a post-modernist age where business, education, science, literature, the arts have all undergone substantial changes. I was going to say something like, “And they say we live in a post-modernist age, hey?” I decided perhaps not, said bye to Jane, who managed to say “Oh, bye,” without spitting in my eye. Went to The Railway, where else? for a couple of quick pints on the way home. I was asked twice by the bar staff where Smashy was. I didn’t know whether this was a sign of my now being accepted as a local or just that I was a boring bastard on my own. I decide it is the latter and go home to bed.
The day starts unpredictably with the help of, who else? Big John or Jonners from Monners (Monrad School). Instead of doing what we had agreed he bundles me back into my car and tells me we are going to visit the family of a child who is on the verge of being permanently kicked out of school. Normally I stay out of these kind of no-win situations because you upset the principal and the staff trying to save a particular child who has been a pain in their side for many months. It is simply too late to help. If you get the child reinstated against the school’s will they find other ways of getting the child kicked out. Alternatively you argue against exclusion and lose, either way you have used up any good will you had in the school so your capacity to help other children with problems is seriously damaged. For some reason my better judgement deserts me and I spend 2 and a half hours with the mother, daughter and brother and then another two hours back to school with the classteacher, special needs person and teacher aide trying to reach some compromise. I won’t know until tomorrow night’s disciplinary meeting whether I have been successful or not. I doubt it at this stage.
Another trip out to Marton for an in-service session in a school. This time I am in danger of being washed away by the rain rather than by my tears. Marton is a bit out of the way and so my session with the pastoral staff was always likely to be a bit different. And so it proved, they were not particularly impressed with the prognostications of this British expert. They dismissed all my talk of effective schools and stood solidly behind the theory that it was today’s pop music that was responsible for much of the violence and misbehaviour in schools. I pointed out quick as a flash, that the same thing had been said of Elvis and even Frank Sinatra, that they were regarded at the time as responsible for destroying the moral fibre of our youth. They came back with some force by pointing out to me that Frank and Elvis had not sung about the merits of suicide, or like Snoopy Dog Dog come up with lyrics such as kill the motherfucker, fuck you mother, Kill, Kill. I had to agree, given they had probably taken a little licence with the lyrics, that they had a point, April in Paris and ‘get off of my blue suede shoes’ don’t quite have the same resonance as kill the motherfucker.
Ellen was supposed to run her usual Wednesday night yoga class. Numbers have always been a bit of a problem but tonight she peaked with the sum total of none, so she joined Smashy and I in the pub. She had a nice story that she had forgotten to tell me about when she had 7 in the class. The room in which she does her yoga is right next to the pavement behind a darkened window through which you can see if you look hard. On this particular night when she glanced at the window she thought she saw the reflections of her class but was puzzled because she was pretty sure that there were only 7 people in the class. Had she miscounted? No she hadn’t. What she was looking at was eight people out on the pavement lying on the ground copying the class’s moves. Kiwi humour at its finest. Instead of going home after a couple with Smashy Ellen and I very boldly decided to go for a burger, something we would not have done in England. By the time we had finished it was time to pick up Kate from Orleans. We had to wait for a few minutes so we decided to have a glass of wine or at least I did, Ellen had a coffee. I felt like something different and so asked for a glass of Gewurtztraminer. Mike, Kate’s boss (everybody in Palmy seems to be called Mike) who is a bit of a pretentious git said “Ah, Gewurtztraaameener, the most under-rated wine in New Zealand,” he purred. I said nowt, Ellen couldn’t believe that I had made no reply to this as I’m usually pretty quick to express an opinion on wine. The problem was that of the three possible responses l) You don’t pronounce it like that, dickhead; 2) Yes, I’m very familiar with the grape because I have drunk some of the finest Gewurtztraminer in the world in Alsace at the vineyard of Hugel et Fils or 3) It might be the most under-rated but this particular one is shite; none seemed likely to endear us to Kate’s boss. As I assume she wants to keep the job and could think of no polite reply, I thought I had better keep stum.
I actually felt fed up this morning, a fact worth recording because I haven’t felt fed up for quite a while. Unusual by my standards back home. I think it was probably more anxiety about the day to come. Well justified too as it turned out. The work with the teachers at this school that I hadn’t been at all sure about turned out OK except that one of the deputy heads whom I had specifically asked to be there because I needed his support, decided to say Fuck you Pete and sat in the staffroom throughout. Thanks a lot Del Boy and fuck you too.
What was hard about today was that I had two difficult sessions back to back. After four and half hours of fronting this session it was straight on to the disciplinary hearing of the little girl I mentioned yesterday. This was so sad as to be almost funny. The charge sheet prepared against her was, to use the school’s own word, ‘amazing’. Bill and I did our best to plead for flexibility but with the principal’s accumulated evidence before the committee it looked pretty hopeless. And yet we did plead eloquently. In Franglais the list was as follows:
15th March Marie avez volled des lollipops et elle avez assaults le owner de lollipops.
19th March Elle avez assaults un autre garcon, avez threatened assault et did frappe to professeur quand elle etait requeste a depart.
29th March Elle avez failed a compile avec un simple et propre request from le professeur
Les Vacances de Easter
27th April Elle avez frappe un petite fils sur le tete.
29th April Elle avez refuse a retourne a la salle from the Mega Learning Centre. Elle avez disrupte tout le class et puis a dis a Mrs Smith “fuck off.”
3rd May Elle avez faire les allegations slanderous about deux professeurs a une group de fils . Les Gendarmarie etait mforme. A tout heure Marie a dit que elle avez made them up. Marie a dis que elle etait tres triste about qu’elle avez dis.
6th May Marie etait suspende pour trois jours quand elle avez refuse un request reasonable a ne tappe votre plume sur le desk and puis elle a dis a le professeur “get fucked.”
10th May Marie retourne a l’ecole avec sa mere Marie et sa mere etait told, this is tres serieuse
13th May Elle avez assaulte yet un autre fils. Marie a dis dens sa defence que le autre fits avez voile sa jeume homme. Tout les witnesses sont adamant que l’attack etait totalement umprovoked.
With this weight of evidence perhaps we should not have been surprised that we lost and the girl was suspended. Got home at 9. At the end of the day I was left with the firm opinion that I had worked very hard today and not moved the human condition forward one jot.
Hard work getting out of bed probably as a result of yesterday’s efforts. I am glad that I did because today was a much better day, it almost seemed that God was rewarding me for my unfulfilled efforts yesterday. A beautiful day and a drive through the Manawatu Gorge, this is an unusual route for me but I was heading for Dannevirke and one of Adrian’s schools. He had invited me along to see if I could give the school, which was reportedly falling apart, any advice. I was surprised and pleased that he had asked me. So I was in a good mood as I drove in Pee Wee (my car’s registration is PW 4339) and New Zealand had its brightest and best clothes on this morning. The drive through the gorge was quite literally gorgeous mate and the drive the other side was quite literally hilly mate. The school accorded me God like status and I liked this much better than yesterday when the world seemed to hold the view that I was a complete load of crap. Left this school and drove some more through the green and rolling countryside to Hato Paora a residential Catholic Maori Boys school and yet again I felt as if I had made some kind of contribution. In the distance I could hear the boys singing it is powerful and moving stuff and I could see from the look in Peter’s eyes that, as a Maori, he found this sound proud and emotional.
As today was going so well I decided to go for it some more. Knocked off at 3.30 and spent half an hour or so at Golf City trying to knock golf balls into the wide blue yonder. This time I set up as far away from the airport perimeter as possible so that my slice was not so disastrous to low-flying aircraft. Started really well, keeping all the advice to a few simple thoughts, oily, loose grip, slowly back, head still, the first half dozen or so of my forty balls went straight and true but then for some inexplicable reason I started to feel tense. It was almost as if my success had made me tense, I know this can’t last so let’s get it over with and get back to me being crap. The next 20 or so were a mixture of the poor, indifferent, sliced, rolled, skidded, bobbled and the occasional good one that left me with the golfing cliche why can’t they all be like that?? I worked hard with the last dozen and they went reasonably well. I was amazed how tired I felt after just half an hours moderate exercise, either the tenseness of my swing is physically draining or the week has been. Whatever, one thing is clear and that is that another week has simply shot by. I couldn’t even muster the energy to go and join Smashy at The Railway for a quick one (which he told me the next day lasted for four hours). I quite literally couldn’t be bothered mate.
Saturday 1 8th
A nice mixture of a day. Worked on my diary in the morning and then, because it was such a glorious day, I decided to go out and watch a little sport. On impulse I decided to drive to Feilding to watch the team whose manager had been at the sports psychology evening. I thought they might be interesting to watch if they were as bad as he had suggested. I had no idea where they played but how many teams could there be in Feilding? Well it turned out there are two and I watched the wrong one but never mind. I found the ground, paid my $4 to get to watch Feilding against College Old Boys. For $4 I got to sit in the grandstand. Everybody seemed to know everybody, even the visiting supporters amongst whom I had inadvertently sat, so they must have wondered who I was. I like to think that they thought I was a scout for some big club or other. The level of violence was frankly disappointing in the first half the most violent incident was a little girl falling over and grazing her knees on the footpath. There was one nasty example of human to human violence when one of the ball boys kneed another on the thigh and hip. A particularly nasty incident it was too the ball boy timing his leap to perfection reducing his friend to a crumbled heap. In the second half one on-field fight looked promising when a lot of other players from both sides rushed over but disappointingly rather than getting truly stuck in they were only trying to stop the fight. The home side lost but the opposing fans got away without a scratch. It wouldn’t happen back home? Feilding should have been ripped apart. The streets should have run red with retalitory violence madness and mayhem should most certainly have ensued. Of course I was watching the wrong side but even so, none of this occurred and it is clear from this that Kiwis really know nothing of how to truly support a team. All in all a most disappointing afternoon I’ve seen more violence on University Challenge.
If the afternoon was somewhat disappointing the evening was not. We attended our first proper party on New Zealand soil at Di’s house in, as coincidence would have it, Feilding. Now Palmy is not exactly Paris, France but Feilding isn’t even Paris, Texas. Although only 20 minutes drive from Palmy it feels like a different world. It is fundamentally a rural, farming community which would explain why more than half the people at Di’s party were connected in some way with farming. These people were, quote, different to any I had met thus far. They appeared out of the darkness from a land beyond time and went from sober to paralytic in two and a half minutes. It is hard to describe an event that you cannot remember but, it seemed to me, that they lived in a world of beef prices (beef s fucked mate,” said Bill), baches, microlights, divorce and alcohol, I liked them immediately. All the women looked the same, they had short hair, wore checked shirts and jodpers. When the singsongs started they all sang different songs at the same time with unbridled enthusiasm, they danced in a manner that I had not thought the human body capable of and drank rum and coke like camels at a waterhole. As soon as they found out we were from Yorkshire we had an evening of Eeh by gum lad, trouble at mill, Geoffrey Boycott now there were a lad who could bat. At one stage the whole room seemed to be talking in a Yorkshire accent like some demented Monty Python sketch. God knows who was driving home but almost as suddenly as they had arrived they disappeared into the night and Ellen and I were the last there. I dragged my alcohol soaked body to the car and we went home. A bloody good evening, one of the best so far.
Merely beginning this day took a superhuman effort. I had to practise all the elementary skills that people take for granted when waking up. First there was breathing without the top of my head falling off, that took about 20 minutes. Then there was opening my eyes. one at a time, even with the curtains closed this was almost impossible. After 15 minutes of this I thought I might give sitting up a shot, but the wave of nausea told me I was not yet ready for this big step, so I laid back down. By now it was about 11 o’clock so l tried sitting on the edge of the bed after 10 minutes of this I tried standing. I was doing reasonably well until Ellen opened the curtain some bastard stuck hot needles in my eves and I had to go right back to square one – horizontal breathing.
After lunch (lightly toasted bread) we, as has become our custom, headed for the beach. We packed coffee, biscuits and the Panadol and the Sunday papers and some warm clothes because I was feeling a touch under par. When we first arrived in New Zealand and we were living in a motel we got a newspaper every day. At first I was quite shocked there seemed to be all the same nastiness here that we had hoped to leave behind, sex, violence, royalty, drugs, alcohol, royalty, the lottery, the Tories, royalty and so on. Now I have not seen more than two British papers in the last four months so it came as something of a shock to open the loathsome International Express that Kate had bought the day before. Now I know that this kind of’ journalism’ is OK between consenting adults in the privacy of their own country but when we send this kind of crap abroad well God knows what people must think of us.
In what I assume was a typical edition the menu was as follows – Page 1 ‘I’ll sell royal jewels.’ Page 2 ‘IRA dash peace hopes’. Page 3 ‘Masked man Jacko flies in.’ Page 4 ‘Charles finds himself a guru.’ Page 5 ‘Diana’s jewels are worth a Queen’s ransom’ Page 6 ‘Africans who ran DSS for their benefit.’ Page 7 ‘Riddle of baby in freezer.’ Page 8 ‘ Shame of the state handout.’ Page 9 ‘Maxwell tells of link with rape case tycoon.’ Page 10 ‘Police chief’s girl dealt in ecstasy.’ Page 11 ‘Kohl’s beef blitzkrieg.’ Page 12 ‘Murdered in her bed, aged 94.’ Page 11 ‘Yob takes on Eubank.’ Page 14 ‘He killed his wild child.’ Page 15 ‘A blockbuster deal for Fergie.’ Page 17 ‘Advert for the pools’. Page 18 ‘Royal-link girl killed by crocodile.’ Page 19 ‘No survivors as swamp swallows up crashed jet.’ A journalist’s dream this story. Were they drowned in the swamp, burnt in the explosion, eaten by crocodiles or poisoned by snakes, heck of a story. And it doesn’t end there, on the next page we have ‘Are you going to kill me boy asked gay attackers?’ And of course there is the obligatory story of evil and the lottery – ‘lottery winner with the not-so glittering past (he put a pint glass in a teenagers face) and £17 million winner who beat his wife. I mean isn’t there a law against this kind of thing? Was it always like this or have I become overly sensitive? With great relief I return to the Sunday Star-Times and the beautiful, almost empty, beach. We watch the sun set over the Tasman Sea and then drive the 30 minutes home in the dark to Palmy. The drive makes me feel queasy or was it the International Express?
One of the greatest concerns that a chap can have when bringing his kids overseas is what effect will it have on their education? Will I ruin their career chances by my selfish act? After a fairly dull day I came home to a parent’s worst nightmare, poor exam results. Joe had assured me that he saw this year as a chance to break the negative cycle that had typified his attitude to school in England. He could leave behind his image as class clown and settle down to become a serious student. He was, he assured us, well aware of how important this year was going to be to him. I didn’t have to keep going on about it. We have already had signs that this ambition was some way short of being realised but tonight we had concrete proof in his exam results, well three of them thus far.
His opening words were not encouraging “well I haven’t done as well as I had hoped (last week he had told us he was confident he had done well), but it isn’t terrible.” “Just give me the results and cut the blarney,” I said sympathetically “Well I did badly in English but then everybody else did, even Kenny who’s like a genius, failed,” he began. “What about maths? I prompted. “Ah yes maths, now I’ll admit I’m disappointed about maths, my maths teacher wants to see you. You should have got me a maths tutor,” the dear boy suggested. “Oh I understand (getting into my Basil Fawlty mode), so it’s my fault you’ve failed your exams.” “Dad if you’re going to shout I’m not going to tell you any more,” he said calmly. “Listen, don’t tell me what I can do, it’s your performance that is the problem here, not mine,” I shouted. “You’re so unreasonable, I can’t say anything without you shouting.” I was losing the plot here, I make a serious attempt to get this conversation back on the rails. “What about geography,” I said with some desperation. ”Oh I did well in Geography, I got 32.” “32 out of how many?” I asked, it seemed like a reasonable question “I don’t know,” came the reply. “How can you say you’ve done well then?” “Listen dad if you don’t want to hear about it that’s fine.” What I want to hear is you explain how you expected to pass these exams if you don’t do any work.” “Look, I worked hard, I revised for algebra, I did an hour on that at the weekend.” At this stage I went into apopletic mode, was he serious, did he really regard one hour’s study as hard work? “Are you on drugs?” I shouted unwisely. It appears he did and no he wasn’t. With an amazing amount of brass-faced cheek, he said, “You’re still shouting so I’m off,” and left the room. Am I crazy, am I on drugs, was it me that failed my exams because I didn’t do any bloody work, but spent all my time goofing off with a long string of girls, or was it him?? Joe does not seem inclined to the view that any of this was his fault and, as I seem to have enough guilt for both of us, why should he? Bugger. Later on in the evening we talk a little more rationally. Joe says, come on dad we can do it, get me a tutor, help me out and together we can do better. This boy will go far if there’s an exam in bullshit.
Tuesday 21 st
Leeds is exactly 18,503 kilometres from Palmerston North, the time is 11.56 in the evening and the phone code is 0044 113 and the temperature is 11 degrees centigrade. All this I was told by a teacher at 10.56 in the morning in the school I was visiting simply by consulting with his computer pocket book. Actually he made the last bit up but such was my admiration for the accuracy of this information it took me a while to spot the joker.
The contraceptive pill is 300% more expensive in New Zealand than in Britain. There is a South African journalist on Holmes complaining about how unsporting the Kiwi/Auckland crowd was to Natal in the Super 12 semi-final. Apparently some people were being nasty to those nice Springbok boys. I am sure that a number of British rugby players will be heartbroken to think of those gentle South Africans getting such rough treatment.
Smashy and I drink quite a few pints in, where else? yes, The Railway. After a few pints I realise that I might have dominated the conversation somewhat and I say – you choose a topic. He chooses Darwinism versus Adam and Eve. Bloody hell, not at all what I had expected but in true bar room fashion we earnestly debate the pros and cons. He feels that Darwinism cuts no ice because there are no animals half way between ape and man, I tell him I can think of one or two. Well between say a horse and a man, then. What about the Minotaur, or whatever it was called, half man, half horse, I counter. That wasn’t real. How do you know? There have probably been lots of men-horses over the years but of course they have been kept a secret for fearing of frightening people. Like the X Files you mean? And the front page of the Sunday Sport I remember reading one year on cricket tour. “Woman gives birth to dog, Nurses amazed when baby barked.” said the front page headline. Now that did impress him. Good luck for me that he doesn’t know that the Sunday Sport isn’t a real newspaper.
A melancholic, autumnal day. I can estimate my stress level by the number of squawks I notice the bike make whilst hanging out the boot. Today I notice every squawk. Ellen and I drive in almost complete silence all the way to work, the sum total of the conversation being – Ellen “It’s very autumnal isn’t it?” Me “hmm.” The five minutes later – Me “Did you hear Kate come in?” Ellen “No.” The same little girl in her brown Awatapu uniform sits on the bench as we arrive and Ellen gets her bike out of the boot. She must be puzzled, does she know we have had an argument? The root cause of our unhappiness fundamentally is money. A bank overdraft here of over $400, an overdraft of £700 back home, close to a thousand on Access and Barclaycard, the cats have got fleas and the tenants want us to pay for them to go to the vet. They’ll have to knock Spice unconscious to get him in any vehicle. Joe’s football boots cost $170, a just reward for his excellent exam performance. I reckon he conned his mother and she was silly enough to be conned. I am angry with her about this and she forgot to give this guy $70 for two rugby tickets, more money. There is a stomach virus going around Palmy and I feel ill. Of course I cannot afford to go to the doctor at $50 a go. So generally I feel really pissed off at the moment.
What is it with God? When I report that I am a happy chappy he sees fit to prove me wrong. Doesn’t he like people who make an effort to climb out of a hole? Perhaps I shouldn’t have stood so close to the edge admiring the view from up here. I mean how silly to feel pleased with myself for overcoming the difficulties of the last few months and actually starting to enjoy it here. Forget the positive feedback, when a person stands on the edge of a hole for a period of time obviously the edge will crumble and he is likely to fall back in and that’s what I seem to be doing. Maybe not right back in but I’m definitely hanging onto the edge at the moment. Coming back from a school as it gets very dark I pass a guy on a bike dressed all in black, no lights. This pisses me off so much that I seriously consider turning round and running him over just to show him how wrong he is. Yep, I’m really in a bad mood.
The theme for today is definitely psychologist heal thyself. I must myself act on the same advice that I give to teachers and students when confronted with problems. The problem that confronts me is that I know too much about being confronted with problems. There is so much advice I could give myself and all of it bloody good. For example the prayer “Lord give me the courage to change those things that I can, the patience to accept those things that I can’t and the wit to know the difference between the two.” I don’t know the origin of this but it’s good I reckon. Another basic ‘helping premise’ was written by Thomas Harris, the chap who wrote the very successful book about Transactional Analysis (say what John?) called ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’. Thomas’s advice goes as follows: “A winner takes a big problem and separates it into smaller parts so that it can be more easily manipulated; a loser takes a lot of little problems and rolls them together until they are insolvable.” OK, so break the problem down into smaller parts – money, social life, job, house. Now stop worrying about things I can’t change and then break down something I can change into smaller actionable parts. Simple. So stop worrying about money because that seems to require the patience to accept what cannot be changed. Then take my social life, have the courage to act on this. Another good bit of advice is that stress occurs when your day to day behaviour is out of line with your values. Two of my values in life generally and for this year specifically are ‘difference’ and ‘learning’. Checking that what I am doing today is in line with these values should cheer me up – learn golf and the guitar. So let me see, have the courage to take a large problem and see that it is in line with your values otherwise you will be stressed when you don’t change the things you can which are little problems rolled unto one on a day to day basis and then insolvable differences will have the wit to accept those things I can’t manipulate. Oh bollocks to it.
So I play golf with Bill although not at his club because the course is closed due to exceptionally heavy rain. So we go to Golf City and I hit 80 balls getting better all the time. It is cold and Bill only hits three balls insisting he is there to give me coaching. He does however drink four rum and cokes in swift time after the session. I have my second lesson on the guitar and, whilst this is even slower than the first, it is in line with my values. I do learn a little and it is certainly different. Steve’s approach to teaching me lead guitar is to get me to play rhythm while he gets off on his fancy solos which I have absolutely no hope of reproducing. “Is this what you want?” “Oh, yeh, absolutely, great,” I lie. Must keep going though because this is in line with my values and so my stress levels which began the day so high are now only at nine and a half on a ten point scale. Funny old day but a triumph for modem psychology, I’m cured. Now completely focused I can look forward to tomorrow which could be difficult.
Probably, by a short head, my biggest professional day in New Zealand so far. Today I am appearing before the 60 or so staff at Joe’s school. The good news is that I have now done two other sessions to get a sense of whether what I am saying to Kiwi teachers carries the same resonance as it would to British teachers. So far so good, but this, as they say, is a big one. Doing this kind of training work is what I am here for and it is where I get most of my professional self-esteem. So it is important that I do it well. Thus far what I have to say seems to have gone down well but today there are several factors that make the job potentially more difficult. First, it is a large high school with a lot of staff and high school teachers are usually more difficult to speak to than say primary teachers, second, it is a Catholic school which always makes it more interesting, third, it is an all day session with a mixture of input, activities and taking feedback from the discussion groups (probably the most difficult part) and fourth, and by no means last, it is Joe’s school. I suppose if I had any sense I would have declined the offer to work in this school. But I’m not in a position to turn down work and anyway my lack of sense is legendary
On the whole the day goes well I think, certainly the comments are positive. Admittedly I have to translate occasionally, apparently the term ‘went down like a brick budgie’ doesn’t have any resonance here but they got the gist. There was only one moment when I came close to losing it, this was when I was working through the groups by number and began with the highest number group and worked down. Then I got to group 4 I said ” Oh I’m going down aren’t I?” Why God would choose to magnify this innocent remark I cannot imagine, but he does and I immediately think of Di and going down on the captain’s horse. I have to work hard and quickly to shut out the tiny tremor of a giggle I can feel deep down in my brain. Before this religious audience this would not be a good time to be telling jokes about going down on the captain’s horse or having a go in her pleasure box. But, these gliches apart, there appear to be no major disasters. OK, two teachers come up to me, one to tell me that Joe is not doing well in maths and will probably not pass the exam, thanks very much for that. The other, who approaches me at the end of the day, I assume, to congratulate me about my presentation says “can I have word with you about Joe’s uniform or rather lack of it. He’s pleading poverty, says you can’t afford to buy a shirt, tie, pullover and shoes.” Well as embarrassing as it is I have to support my son and I tell the chap about our money problems. This must be embarrassing for him as well. He looks at me closely now partially to see if I am joking and partially as if he has seen a very large bogey hanging from my nose or as if I had actually said “How do you feel about anal sex?” rather than “my salary is a lot less here than it was in the UK.” I agree that I will speak to Joe and his mother to see if I can sort out this dilemma. “I think he likes to be different.” You’ll never know how true those words are pal, I think to myself “Yes perhaps so”, I reply, “Anyway come and have a drink, “he concludes. Thank God that the ‘she’ll be right, mate’ Kiwi attitude finally breaks surface. I have a couple of tinnies with them and depart, glad to have done a good job but even gladder not to have to listen to any more tales about my son.
By way of celebration I give Smashy a call and propose a couple of beers in The Railway. He says he can only stay for a couple, this from the man who went for a couple last Friday and stayed for four hours. We actually keep it to 4 pints and then, full of weekend cheer, we ‘pick up the girls’ and go onto the George Street Deli for a meal. This is located in the happening part of town, pretty run-down until the library was relocated and revitalized the area. Palmy has always had a reputation as being extremely conservative so the notion of street cafes, bistros and delis has taken a little longer to take off here than in the rest of the civilised world. Never mind they’re here now. The place only has about 8 or 9 tables and it is full. There are another four or five tables outside but it is too bloody cold to sit out there. The walls are plastered with posters, some of them from art exhibitions in exotic, far-distant places such as Cannes and Paris, some local. The overall effect is very pleasant, very bistro-like. Smashy and Marianne have raved about this place for quite a while, perhaps because they know the owners. Now the fact that one of the owners, the chap, is also a clinical psychologist and clinical psychs and ed psychs don’t tend to get on, has absolutely nothing to do with what I am about to say about the cajun fish. In my humble opinion, as the Michael Winner of Palmy North, the food is OK but my cajun fish is about authentic as a true story in the Sun and the bloody thing comes on a ‘bed of rice’ with nuts in it. Yuk. It would be unfair to be critical on the grounds of authenticity because I have had many other cajun fishes around the globe that have been equally disappointing. Anyway I keep my opinions to myself. What they are good at is making a hash of the bill, our meal which would have been cheap if we had paid full price, is even cheaper – $28 for two- because they forget to charge us for the starters and a pudding and the coffee is free and we bring our own bottles of wine. So let me say this in defence of the George Street Deli, whilst the food was not to my particular taste, it was cheap and the ambience was pleasant and it rounded off an enjoyable evening at the end of a very taxing day.
Start the day a little earlier than I would like by watching Joe play footy. Last week I missed his goals by arriving at half time so this time I get there about 10 minutes after kick-off. And the boy does not disappoint, he scores two good goals and is beginning, heaven help us, to look like a footballer. Mr Green is the team coach and was born in Glossop, Derbyshire and has been here for about ten years, he did tell me exactly how many years but it was so complicated that I have forgotten. Mr Green (for heaven’s sake stop calling me Mr Green and call me John), tells me how much he enjoyed yesterday. I try to appear as casual as I can, “Hmm, that’s nice to hear,” I say. More, more, please tell me more, leave out no detail, every positive comment, tell me everything. Mr. Green, sorry John, seems to have finished this topic and his attention, not unreasonably, has gone back to watching his team. “Brendon, Brendon, get wide.” “Did all the staff enjoy it?” I prompt, trying not to sound pathetic. “Oh yes,” he responds. Bloody hell, is that it? Well I can’t prompt him any more, that will have to do. I’m sure he’s holding back but I can hardly ring the truth out of him here on the sideline. At the end of the game, which St Peter’s won four nil, John says “we must go for a beer, some time.” Yes I’d like that but only if we can talk about me and how great I am. I then tell Joe he is grounded for being late last night and he says thanks very much for ruining my day. I point out it is only 10.40 and if it is ruined he ruined it not me. My son and I part company not best pals – again.
Being a month since my last one today is the day for a haircut. John, my regular barber, in that this is the fourth time I have been here, and I talk about this and that but given that it takes less than five minutes to shave off (with a number one guard) what is left of my hair, there isn’t much time for any in depth conversations about the economy or Winston Peter’s immigration policy. We have a brief discussion about the new library which opens today and is the town’s pride and joy or an expensive white elephant depending on your point of view, but this isn’t much more than – “well I like it, well I don’t.” “How much do I usually charge you?” John asks apologetically. “Five dollars,” I reply. “You have a good weekend,” says John as I leave.
Smashy and I play something technically known as squash but which, in fact, bears no resemblance at all to the game but it is at least some exercise. There has been precious little of this even though one of my sub-goals was to get fit in this sports mad country and go home a lean, mean, fighting machine. At this stage there is an extremely remote chance of this being the case and an excellent chance of being a fat, nearly fifty whining machine. I am so knackered by my forty-five minute exercise that it is all I can do to stay awake through the Super Twelve Final between the Auckland Blues and the Natal Sharks. We win easily, did I say we? I am so overcome with emotion for my newly-adopted country that I fall asleep happily dreaming of past sporting triumphs. I wake feeling less than euphoric and rather ill truth be told, I have a headache and I feel sick, so much for exercise. I cannot stay in bed because Ellen has booked a social evening with some ex-pats. Setting aside my Kiwi loyalties we brace ourselves for an evening of what I miss about England with Sue and Stew. Turns out not very much, Stew, who works for Woolworth here in New Zealand (no relation to the American or British company, apparently they just nicked the name because there was no copyright on it in the Antipodes) left England after being made redundant by ASDA in Leeds. He finds a more positive attitude in the workforce here, we can do it rather than we’ve never done it that way, why not rather than we can’t possibly do that because x,y,z. Job security feels better, he reckons although wages are lower and the cost of living is not any less despite the popularly held view that it is. He used to miss the pubs but now that they have improved here he doesn’t even miss them. The only thing his wife Sue misses is, as she puts it, ‘a certain sophistication’. “You have to be careful what you say,” she says glancing in the direction of the two other guests who are Kiwis. They seem happily engaged in conversation with Ellen about life on Mars or something extra-terrestrial, so Sue goes on about how she misses certain shops and shopping and that seems to be about it. Sue has an expensive set of pink golf clubs so sophistication is obviously important to her. She plays golf in a ladies foursome but they have been reprimanded by other members for taking too long to play and talking too loudly. She is indeed a very friendly, chatty person so I hesitate to take the piss, but I do anyway. I’m sure she doesn’t mind and probably doesn’t even notice. We talk of landlords and noisy neighbours and it all sounds depressingly familiar. We use the fact that I have grounded Joe and that we want to check if he has stayed at home as an excuse to leave just after 10. I have given my all being sociable, I still feel under the weather and now I want to go home to bed. Unfortunately home is 18,503 kilometres away so we return to Gemini Avenue instead. When I feel ill I want my own little bed in Headers rather than this sagging relic in a small room in Milson. But then that’s the price to be paid.
The four of us can barely survive in this house together and yet today we add one more for an indefinite period. The one more being Kate’s boyfriend, Mick from England, a thoroughly nice lad from Leeds but he could, unwittingly, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I mean this morning Joe and I are occupying the living room, he wants to listen to some music programme on the TV and I ‘want’ to type up my diary. Ellen wants the dishwasher mending. In the face of adversity I bash on with my typing. I get a fair amount done catching up on the exciting events of the week, then, with a certain amount of nervousness we set off on the long drive to the airport. It takes us five minutes. Of course the airport has changed since I was last here, it is now an international airport. I must say that despite all the hoohah in the local press about will the alterations be ready on time for the first flight to Sydney, the place does not look very different except that there is now an international door, an international gate, desk, corridor, curtains. It all looks like it was put up in a day and as if they didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it in case nobody uses the airport internationally. Actually the local paper carried an article last week about the possibility of increasing the number of international flights because they had been so popular, but this could, of course, be all bullshit. The airport today is something of a hub of sophistication in that the victorious (they have beat South Africa twice) Silver Fems (better name than Silver Ferns) New Zealand netball team are flying out to Auckland. But then there is the farmer in his gummies (wellies) probably meeting his sheep off the plane. Now that’s sophisticated.
Then this very small plane lands and taxis up to the airport building quite literally mate parking outside and there he is getting off in white, short-sleeved polo shirt and tracky bottoms. It’s pretty freezing here in Palmy but then he has come from a British spring so it should not be too much of a shock. Kate gives him a bunch of red roses the origin of which is dubious but nobody can accuse her of not making the most of their serendipitous arrival (from another admirer we think). So here is Mick, a strange link from a life far away, last seen shedding tears in the departure lounge of Leeds-Bradford airport. I cannot for the life of me work out whether that seems like yesterday or a life time ago. Probably, on balance, the latter. In a manner I cannot identify Mick exudes Yorkshireness or Britishness, whether it is the accent or the clothes or the copies of The Sun and The Daily Star he has brought with him I do not know but it is like he has been transplanted, just simply plucked from one environment and set down in another without any time elapsed. The most striking article in both papers is another road rage incident about a man stabbed to death by another motorist on die M25. Dear old England. Good hey?
So today is about international travellers and to continue the theme of sophistication this evening we go to the theatre with Glenice and Stewart and friends of theirs called Gavin and Theo. We pay S50 for two tickets to see ‘Social Climbers’ a ‘brilliant new comedy by Roger Hall, a famous New Zealand playwrite. $50, now that’s sophisticated. The play is about six women stranded in a climbing hut halfway up a mountain. The idea is that this odd collection of women stuck together will have the opportunity to expound some of the topical issues of today and do it in a way that is funny, warm and vaguely feminist. This play got a good review in The Dominion, buggered if I can see why. Admittedly there were one or two good lines – “I’ve got CRAFT syndrome.” “What’s that?” “Can’t remember a fucking thing.” And there was also “Alzheimer’s must be fun you’re always meeting new people.’ but on the whole the lines are only average and so is the acting. It may be argued that the feminist slant of the play is too rich for my male chauvinist blood, observations about toupee, quite funny, wife-beating, not funny, premature ejaculation, quite funny, going to the toilet a lot in the night, not at all funny. So apart froth the fact that the ‘rebellious teenager’ seemed to be smoking real dope judging by the smell and that she told a disgusting and funny joke about three women having a pee, the play was fairly dull, in fact so was the whole evening, that is apart from the earthquake that shook the building and rattled the lights and seats. It was in the papers and on the news the next day, apparently it was at 5.6 on the Richter Scale. This occurred at 10.13, half way through the second act and apparently the audience was abuzz. Gavin, who had experienced the ‘big one’ at Dannevirke in 1992, was apparently quite nervous because, as he said, once you’ve been through the big one you never quite know how bad it’s going to be or how long it’s going on for. I keep saying apparently because I didn’t notice any of this. Ellen noticed that the lights had been shaking but hadn’t realised it was anything other than some dramatic effect in the play. So there we were, the earth moved for us and we didn’t realise it. If the actors had been quick with their ad libs they could have made reference to being on Mount Ruapeha – the mountain that erupted in 1995, just up the road – oh never mind.
There is a body lying on our living room floor this morning, it is Mick, in fact, excuse me, there are two bodies lying on our living room floor, Mick and my daughter, Kate. What a laugh, he’s only been here 17 hours and they’re sleeping together already. Apparently they simply slept together because they were both cold. Well, maybe, the house is cold, I believe them. Low squeak count this morning as Ellen and I drive to work so l must be feeling relaxed despite Joe poking a hole in my favourite top, the bill for a TV licence finally catching up with us (they don’t seem to have detector vans, but you never know), and the new HiFi is crackling (either that or I’ve knackered the CD I borrowed off of Smashy) and I still feel as if I’ve got the flu, despite all this I feel OK as I drive to work this morning.
We sit at one of our usual sets of traffic lights and, in true Kiwi fashion, our lights are on green but we aren’t moving and the other lights are on red but they are coming through. Nobody seems to get pissed off at this, even I am becoming philosophical about ‘it’. My mind goes back to the road rage stabbing, it wouldn’t happen here. Yes the traffic density and all the stress that goes with it does not exist here but there is also something about the temperament of those that sit behind the wheel that is different. The British all polite and pent up, drumming on the wheel as somebody cuts them up and then exploding into homicidal rage over some small slight. Maybe our pent up rage is better because we kill a lot less of each other on the road even when homicide figures are included. I let somebody into the stream of traffic, in England this would have received a wave or a thumbs up, here nothing. Kiwis really must learn to reinforce friendly driving behaviour.
There is a Thai restaurant opening downstairs, for the last couple of weeks my office has reverberated to banging and drilling far worse than any earthquake or volcano. Special Education Service, in the form of Glenice, objected to the restaurant being cited below us as it would interfere with our ability to run a successful business and therefore allow us to break our lease which we wanted to do because the rent is very high. Turns out legally it doesn’t and we can’t and it still is. This morning I arrive in my office, still no sign of Leo whose wife is seriously ill. What is different is a fucking great aluminium vent right outside our window. The beauty of our view is seriously impeded, now instead of being able to read ‘Welcome to Liquorland’ I can only, and this by leaning forward, read ‘Wel’, which in a strange metaphysical, post-modernist way seems to sum it all up rather nicely. As for the rest of the day, there is great excitement about last night’s earthquake, about strapping your bookcases to the wall and the car wobbling around in the drive. Adrian comes into my office for a chat, we talk about curries, Hull, The Crucible, we’ve become quite friendly much to my amazement. I give Bill $10 for the golf on Thursday, he gives me a case, but not of wine. We have not been invited to the McKenzies 21st birthday party and I’m not sure why. I drive out to Marton, again, committing my own little bit of British road rage on the way out of the car park by driving into a large Toyota Landcruiser owned by the Asians who are opening the restaurant, but then they shouldn’t have parked it where they did. They look out of the window quite surprised.
Joe goes to school for the first time ever in his life wearing a tie and he is subjected to the first night in his new homework regime as a result of screwing up in his exams. Kate and Mick have been to the pictures to see ‘Mr Holland’s Opus’, it cost them $6.50 the equivalent of about £3 pounds as against £4.20 at the Leeds Showcase. This is taking into account that Monday and Tuesday are cheap nights and normally the cost is $9.50, i.e. slightly more than in England. Now at 8.45 we are all gathered together in our little house in New Zealand, all five of us.
A day of sussing out the opposition in the form of a lady called Dr. Patrice Cooke from Perth, Western Australia. I don’t know what I had expected but it wasn’t the grey-haired old lady in twin set and, if not pearls, a scarf. She is disappointingly impressive, she sits down and just talks for an hour and a half without any notes at all. She has a lot going for her she comes across as caring, experienced, serious and jokey, has a theory based on her own research, gives practical advice and best of all she is blunt in the way that only Aussies can be – “A child screams like a camel when you put limits on them, but they need consistency” or “they run round like a headless chuck,” or “I’ll say he’s got an open mind, the back of his head is open and it all drops straight out.” Chaps do not come out well in Doctor Cooke’s world. She begins by giving her view of the universe and all in it. There is a lot of good memorable lines “If this were a perfect world it wouldn’t be an ethical world because there would be no room for making decisions and so we couldn’t develop,” or “fire hardens the egg and melts butter.” My favourite, which I hadn’t heard before, is “we fret about the past and worry about the future and in the meantime the present is becoming the past.” At one stage she seems on the verge of going delirious. “You were once a star,” she tells us, “you are particles and waves which are energy pulses that effect everyone and everything in the universe. Did you know that Jupiter is a vacuum cleaner for the Earth and that it sucked up this comet (whose name I forget) that was heading for Earth and that, when it hit Jupiter, it sent a fireball 18,000 miles up into the sky, that’s the distance front Sydney to Melbourne.” Well the rest may be true but it’s not that far from Melbourne to Sydney, but no matter, Dr Cooke goes on and gradually her message clears and makes complete sense – that you can either do good or bad, send out positive or negative waves. “We’re human becomings not human beings.” Good stuff and not what I had expected to hear on a day about managing the behaviour of difficult children. She is, I must admit, enjoyable and certainly her audience seems to think so. I’ve never had such an accolade after one of my talks. What an old cow.
Because it has been a hard day listening to somebody else in my field of expertise being given praise the like of which I do not normally receive I decide to go for a few beers with Smashy (for a change). This time Smashy’s pal, Mark, joins us and this alters the dynamics of the evening. They have a long shared history which I cannot match. Conversational tip for use in a foreign country: concentrate on universal topics such as Darwinism, the meaning of life and drinking. For some reason Catherine, call me Cat, the barmaid in the skimpy uniform speaks to us, probably because Smashy asked her what she felt about her uniform. Apparently the uniform has been labelled sexist, uncomfortable, generally in poor- taste and all size 12 by an ‘anonymous regular’. In the gents there are several copies of the newspaper article denouncing the uniform. In true Kiwi fashion, full of good taste, they have managed to sensitively use the article to their advantage. Anyway back to Cat who is doing media studies at Massey. I ask her, in that sad conversational way that old guys have when trying to talk to young, attractive women, what are the chances of getting a job at the end of the course. Cat replies, and I think I quote her accurately here, “there’s shit chance of getting a job.” This is a sophisticated chick. “So what do you think of the uniform?” We ask again. “If you go to Girl’s High you expect to wear the uniform and it’s the same here, and they’re not all size 12” is the reply. OK.
So I feel like shit, OK but where would I rather be feeling like shit? Here I guess. On balance I’m glad that I resisted the temptation to go back to bed because my two school visits today went quite well in that I got paid some compliments and I like that. Considering I had real difficulty stringing two words together it is surprising that I should receive any positive feedback, but then again perhaps the fact that I could only get a couple of words out before relapsing into silence might have been the reason why I was so impressive. As usual I have some ideas for my diary in the middle of the night and as usual I try to come up with some pneumonic to remember these world shattering, Pullitzer prize-winning ideas in the morning. In this case I remember it is the 3Cs but when I wake up this morning I can’t remember what they are – conversation, condensation, cats, computers, cash? Gone forever or at best buried somewhere in my addled brain.
Leo’s wife died this morning. As is often the case her time of death – 6.38 – was reported with great accuracy. Perhaps it is a way of marking the gravity of the occasion, not very much else you can say apart from – died peacefully in her sleep, if she did. A lot of real and genuine concern among folk in the office but everybody is unsure of how best to support Leo. Should we go round, call, write, send separate cards or a group one, send flowers, go to the funeral in a group or send some representatives, Everybody is conscious of the fact that Leo is very supportive of everybody else but might find accepting support from others rather difficult. I would like to get it right because he has been extremely supportive of me particularly since we share an office. I don’t like writing about death even though I think about it daily. I’m not sure why,
By the end of the day I still feel like shit but instead of being able to relapse I take Mick to his first football training session with Marist, which he thinks is Maoris. He says he’s playing for the Maoris, an interesting thought. I then come back to pick up Ellen to take her to her yoga class but for the second time nobody shows up and so she joins me in the new library, a little crestfallen. Not having had any books to read for a month while the library moved I pig out in a literary way with 2 crime books, a travel book, a New Zealand wine book, a piano blues book, a book about American artists and one about Andy Warhol. Quite an eclectic collection. We also pay $7 to take out some jazz and classical music CDs. Now I have a crackly Hi Fi system musically, in the words of Del Boy, the world is my lobster,
This is the third evening of Joe’s new homework regime and it is driving me nuts. The deal is that he will do and hour and a half of work every night. I don’t even care if he has any homework that night, get some! The new order was instituted by us as reparation for his gruesome exam performance. What a mistake. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to study, what I will loosely call, his work habits. They are appalling. All those teenage study type cliches are actually true. First he works with his walkman on, as if this isn’t bad enough he ‘sings’ along with what he’s listening to, the singing he intersperses with banging on the table, shaking his head from side to side and stomping his feet He is hardly ever still, fuck knows how anything actually manages to appear on the page. His attention-span hardly merits the word span it is more like an attention-whatever the bit is between the span on, say, a bridge. He ‘works’ for about 10 minutes then gets up and makes a phone call which lasts for about 15 minutes. I tell him he is supposed to be working, he tells me it is OK as the phone call was only 7 minutes and he will do 7 minutes extra at the end. He works for a further 10 minutes and then gets up to make another call. At this point I loose my cool and tell him to put the bloody phone down. He tells me there is no need to shout and I am being unreasonable. Gee, I’m being unreasonable, and all the time I thought it was him. Silly me. When he is ‘working’ the interruptions to our telly-watching or music listening are also continuous. “Mum, is a blizzard a natural hazard, Dad, is a flood a natural hazard?” No, Joe, but you certainly are. “What is an isosceles triangle? If this angle is the same as this, what does that make the length of this side?” Most of the time we haven’t a clue and we cover this up by saying things for Heaven’s sake Joe this is your homework, not ours. Get on with it or you will do twice as long tomorrow.” Did I really say that trying to keep him on track for an hour an a half is torture and I’ve just said I’m going to double the torture. Gee, it’s cool being an expert on behaviour management. I retire to bed physically and mentally drained.
I feel OK this morning, this is a mistake. The on-going saga of the Thai restaurant downstairs is on-going. Today I am greeted by the sight of another smaller aluminium pipe growing up outside my office window. I stick my head out of the window and cheerfully enquire of the chap outside on a ladder, “What the fuck is that?” “This,” looking at said pipe, “this is the ventilation pipe from the toilet, mate,” he replies quick as a flash. I realise almost immediately that pushing him off his ladder isn’t going to help and even my chum Mike B probably couldn’t get me off with justifiable homicide. I close the window and go and tell teacher that somebody is being nasty to me and would she do something about it. Even though I have passed the problem on it is still disconcerting \\ when I am trying to work to have a man’s head level with the end of my desk when I am on the first floor. This little cameo sets the tone for what happens in the rest of the day. It could be best described as chaotic. I get another telling off from my mother substitute -Dawn, this time for having my feet on the table, that’s 4 tellings-off, the first for speaking too loudly, the second for referring to Pee Wee as ‘my’ car, the third for filling in my diary returns incorrectly. Mostly these admonitions are said with a little levity usually and, in the case of the table, probably fair enough but why is it that nobody else has told me off, I can only conclude she enjoys the thrill of the kill.
Eddie decides we are going to go and see Leo and take him some cakes. Nice idea and I’m glad to have the decision as to whether to go and see him or stay away made for me, even though Dawn comes with us Leo is as much a gent in this time of sadness as he has been for the rest of the year. He puts us at our ease with his gentle humour. He introduces us to his daughter as “people I care about.” I am immensely touched by this even though I realise I probably got the compliment on the back of Leo’s, much longer. relationship with the other two. It is gratifying to see that Eddie’s listening skills are as wacko under these sensitive circumstances as they are at any other time I’ve been with him. Maybe it is customary to let the grieving widower speak but why let that get in the way of telling a good story. This is most unfair, Eddie’s just trying to fill those awkward silences that characterize these occasions. After about an hour of completely irrelevant chatter about their time in teacher-training college and diary sheets and some talk about his wife, Leo gracefully suggests we leave and with some relief we do. Outside Dawn asks me if I am glad I went and I say that I am, and it’s true.
Then it is out to Rongotea for a cluster (of principals) meeting. This is held in the local tavern and when I say in it I mean in it. It is not a separate room at the back of the pub, I am speaking the other side of the open bar to the rest of the clientele. I don’t suppose they are particularly interested in my views on classroom management, (they actually seem more interested in the racing and what they are drinking); but they get them anyway. They shout me a beer and then home. I go straight out again because it is my third guitar lesson. Tonight, after running through my scales, I learn about up and down picking and tapping my right foot in tune with the down stroke. Apparently my foot is suppose to maintain a steady metronome-like rhythm but my foot and brain don’t seem to rate this as an idea and as what we guitarists call, my strum pattern varies, so does the movement of my foot. Instead of a steady beat my foot moves randomly like somebody having a localised epileptic fit. I tell Steve I will practice and he gives me a copy of a magazine called Guitar Techniques within which are contained the secrets of how the artiste actually played on the record such songs as Needle and the damage done (Neil Young), Love is all around (Wet, Wet, Wet), You really got me (The Kinks) and The Chain (Fleetwood Mac)’. Unfortunately what is inside might as well be in Chinese for all I understand it, but I can practice.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Kate is working long hours and has received a poison-pen letter from her nutty jockey, maybe Damen 3 isn’t so funny. Joe is driving me nuts all through the X Files. Ellen and I have a little exchange of words about whether she should help Joe with his homework when, five minutes earlier, she had been spitting tacks about how rude he was to her. Mick is doing best. He has been here less than a week and he has now been for a second training session with another team, sprained his ankle and been fixed up with some free physio and been promised a job as a joiner. I must read something about Chaos Theory, is it a good or a bad thing? I retire to bed physically and mentally drained – again.
The last day of the month of May and it ends with a funeral. I suppose it was inevitable that this should happen. Kiwis just may be the only nation on the planet that can respond to the question “How was the funeral? with the response ‘Good’. Actually I reckon it was pretty good, positive and up-beat, a celebration of a past life with jokes and affectionate references to the deceased. That nice poem about death, about how the dead person isn’t far away and has just moved into the next room. I don’t think we would be culturally inclined to have this kind of funeral in England. Peter Terangi did not like it very much, he thought, although these were not his words, the service was not respectful or sincere enough, not in the Maori tradition. At least this is what I think he felt. Peter wanted a Maori aspect to the funeral because he wanted to, as he put it, “warm the part of Leo that was Maori.” I thought this was a touching statement but Leo’s view was that this was Shannon’s funeral and what she wanted was what would happen. Peter, like myself, wanted to support Leo. We had never known Shannon and it was Leo’s emotional health we cared about.
What should happen and whose needs were being or should be met was an issue on which people had strong and opposing feelings in the office. At least it was on the basis of my small straw poll, what you might call a Maori poll rather than a Mori poll. I know that Peter was upset by the reactions of some folk which was, I think, partially a reflection of how hard he finds it to be the Kaitakawaenga who tries to occupy that middle ground between Pakeha and Maori and to work in an organization that, in some Maori eyes, has never served the interests of Maori children. In the eyes of some of his own people he has sold out, in the eyes of some white New Zealanders he is, at best, ‘one of them’ being dramatic and going on about silly things and, at worst, a dangerous subversive element who threatens everything that they hold dear about New Zealand and its history. Not a great position to be in. During the six months we have been in New Zealand we have been aware in the newspapers and the TV of many issues about the place of Maori in modern New Zealand – The Treaty of Waitangi and Maori land rights, the use of the Maori language, the use of the term Pakeha to describe white New Zealanders, the Southern Pacific flavour of the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington, the setting up a separate Maori state, why Maoris are, in Peter’s words, the most incarcerated nation on earth, but this was the first time that controversy about the two cultures had penetrated the polite, reserved, professional veneer of the office. I found out quite a bit about my colleagues and myself today.
One of the things I found out about myself is that I notice the silly things in life rather than the important ones. So, cultural differences apart, there were all the more usual and unique characteristics of a funeral to check up on. What kind of place is it? Hmm, I don’t like the false brickwork and pillars. The hearse is an ordinary estate car and so are the cars in the procession behind it. As Peter remarked you could use the hearse on weekends for picnics. But of course what funerals are really about is the people. The first thing you notice is that they are not all in black, in fact some seem to be dressed brightly on purpose. In the country of the All-Black, they are not. I cannot be the only person who wants to look round to see who is there, who isn’t. Who do I know? Who knows me? How much a part of this town am 1? Who is crying? Shit I am, but I don’t know this woman, but when others crack up, as they are saying their farewells, it makes me tearful. What a phoney, why is he crying he never met the woman? I can’t help it I cry buckets whilst watching ‘On Golden Pond.’ Peter thinks western man should cry more and he probably thinks a bit more crying would be in order. Later Mike B told me later that Maori women will drink large amounts of water to help them cry more at the funeral. On one hand this reminded a bit of the line in ‘Ellen’ last night when Adam is leaving to go to London and Joe (the big fat one in the bookshop) says “I promised myself that I wouldn’t pretend to cry, but what the heck,” and then proceeds to pretend to cry. On the other hand I don’t think western civilisation in general or the British stiff upper lip approach to death specifically has anything to get snooty about. Who is to say who’s right and who’s wrong. After the poem and a hymn I used to sing at school, I can’t remember the title but it has the lines which go something like ‘in death’s dark vale I feel no ill with thee Oh Lord beside me’. Surprisingly traditional that is until, none other than, Cat Stevens finishes the ceremony with ‘Morning Has Broken.’ What is it about New Zealand and Cat Stevens?
The ‘debate’ continued in the evening when we went for a pizza with Mike and Ann. Ann’s view, strongly held, was that the funeral was Shannon’s and her wishes were paramount. Mike’s view was that the funeral was about the living and that Leo could not set aside that part of him that was Maori even if he wanted to. Once a Maori always a Maori, once a Catholic always a Catholic. Whatever the tensions between different cultures what is, I am increasingly inclined to believe, the case is that the Kiwi attitude to death is quite different from the British one. Over a pizza Ann talked about all the kids she had known, many of them clients, whose graves surrounded the one where today’s ceremony took place. “We had a lovely time walking around looking at who we knew,” she said. If this sounds a touch cold then so be it but Ann and Mike’s own daughter who, at the age of 17, was killed in a road accident, was there as well. They talk about Jane with no apparent sorrow just about how impulsive she was, just the kind of child that gets killed as so many of the others had done in road accidents. Who am I to say how the death of a child should be remembered. It seems neither cold nor bizarre, just the Kiwi way and different to way we do things. I’ll finish this strange day where it began, in Boys High. The principal there introduced me to his staff as ‘somebody who doesn’t piss about’. Now that’s an epitaph I’d like on my grave and a suitable place to finish our fifth full month in New Zealand.