Monday, January 25, 2016

Australia Dayze

It turns out I'm flying home to Australia on Australia Day - who knew? I didn't, at least not until a more patriotic friend pointed it out to me a few days ago. But it probably explains why the tickets were so cheap: people either want to make sure to avoid Australia on that day or to be there in good time to celebrate it in style, not neither here nor there, as I will be.

Indeed I do fear in the interim twenty-five-odd years since I've resided in my home country, there's been a slight slippage in my proper affection and respect for the big brown land that I still call home, as the sentimental lyric to our national anthem that was drummed into me at a young and impressionable age, forever resounds in my brain: 'I STILL CALL AUSTRALIA HOOOOOOOOME', for some reason in John Farnham's boom-ballad voice. And indeed I do, but in a somewhat quieter way, and not enough to remember the date of its national day. Hmm...

I think part of the problem is that those 25+ years since I have lived in Australia I have spent in New Zealand, the annoying little-brother land with which Australia has a sibling-rivalry kind of animosity that borders on the psychotic at times, something that can make clear thinking for an Aussie ex-pat living in New Zealand somewhat tricky. Being called a traitor to my face for leaving Australia did not helped much either.

Add to that the Australian political scene which has left something to be desired for many a year now, although NZ's political scene under our present right-wing government is hardly any better. And Australia is a much bigger country than NZ and size makes everything (almost) more difficult, so some sympathy is required. Progress and change takes time and the bigger the thing that needs to move forward, the slower it tends to take.

Australia also gave me an interesting and fairly bizarre start in life, enough to write an entertaining book about and get an Australian publisher to publish, so there's that. I like to think this says that I still matter to Australia, though it remains to be seen just how much. But if I still matter to Australia at all, then Australia still matters to me.

In fact living between somewhat rivalrous countries is kind of like having two lovers. It's a little awkward at times, but I am never lonely or bored. Also I have the benefit of distance from each, which gives me perspective, so that my love for each is at worst a bit blurry, never blind.

So happy Australia Day, Australia; I'll see you tomorrow. But for today, and tonight, I'll be here in New Zealand, making sure that I'm missed.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sunset Study II

I took this photo - with plenty zoom - from my study window a few evenings back and posted it on Facebook. Three 'likes', one comment. Really? 

Now I know it's unseemly to brag, but compared to the 'look at me in Timbuktu' photos that saturate Facebook, as well as the 'look at my pets', my kids and my friends photos, this is a pretty modest brag on my part, with nature taking 99% of the credit. All I did was think fast then wait patiently for the zoom on my crap camera - that needs its battery replaced with every shot - to sort itself out. It's not as if I'm taking credit for the sunset.

Perhaps part of the problem is the fact that I have a room with such a view and don't have to go to Timbuktu to see it. If that's the problem, then I guess that's different; I am indeed lucky to have such a view and probably shouldn't brag about it. But still, it's a photo worth taking, is it not, and most of my Facebook friends are fairly well situated themselves. 

And this is my study view at its best, and in major zoom, as I said. The actual window through which I view this mighty vista is a measly 40 x 40cms, in a basic wooden frame that's not yet painted after seven years and glass that hasn't been cleaned for the same length of time (because it's hard to get to; that's my story and I'm sticking to it), which means the window has to be opened so wide it's a challenge to retrieve it afterwards, in order for a photo like this to be taken. 

Perhaps that's what I should take a photo of next time: unpainted wood and hard-to-clean glass.  


Monday, January 18, 2016

Of Cats and Men

My mother (who doesn't read this blog) is a keen emailer and forwarder, which is quite impressive for 92 (she had me in her forties), but..... her favourite subjects for emailing and forwarding these days are, you guessed it, cats and men, which is rather less impressive.

Now. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against cats. We have two cats in this very house and if I didn't feed them day and night - which I wouldn't do if I didn't care somewhat - they would be two cats no longer, and that is only the beginning of the cat drama in this house that I've been dealing with and/or caring about for a very long time indeed, such that it's best not to get me started.

As far as men go, well, we have three of them in this house (if under 25s count), and again if I didn't feed them day and night they would be three men no more. Admittedly, one of those three helps significantly, especially on the bill-paying front, but still there is a little too much man-drama in this house (not to mention in the wider world) for my tastes most days, and it is probably safer not to get me started on that subject either.

Mother, although not technically senile, doesn't seem to quite understand that I'm up to my ears in cats and men already and would rather talk about the weather, frankly. Instead, every few days or so I get forwards sent across the Tasman with images of cats in various unlikely poses - on ducks and dogs and toast (toast? Yes, toast) - interspersed with endless, and equally unlikely, words of 'man wisdom' from various famous men, invariably dead (Churchill and Disraeli, most recently), which do nothing for my mental health and make me wonder if that is her purpose - my mental destabilisation. If so, why not stick to those long chatty notes about weeding and croquet - her third and fourth favourite subjects. They work almost as well.

That said, I do think there's a certain equivalence between cats and men - they're mutually omnipresent, fussy and demanding - that my mother's obsession has tapped into, suggesting an astuteness in later life that is somewhat reassuring, even if subconscious.

Still, I wish she'd stick to the weeding.    

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Yesterday I used the private healthcare system for the first time in my life, at least as far as I can recall. I might have been born in a private hospital, but that was Mum's health care, not mine.

Being a good lefty I am against private healthcare on principle. And being employed, along with my husband, in the public education system, I can't strictly afford it either - especially as, at the moment, I am unemployed.

But even if I could afford it I wouldn't. I object to the idea that a minority of people, primarily those working in the profit-focused private sector busy making money for themselves and compounding inequality for others, should get better quality and faster health care than the majority of people who can't afford private because they work in the public sector which is invariably underfunded because successive right-wing governments make it their mission to cut public funding, while being governed by motives more honourable and important to our collective social well-being than private profit - particularly as private profiteers also make it their mission not to pay their full taxes.

But when you've been bleeding for fifty days straight and the public sector wait for a scan to see if it is, or to rule out, cancer as the cause, is 16-18 weeks and the private sector can provide one without wait, after waiting six weeks over the Christmas-New Year period, during which time I almost bled to death, I decided, urged by my doctor and husband, to bite the bitter bullet and go private.

$250 later, and two days after my bleeding had finally stopped (I was taking GP-prescribed progesterone to stop it), I had my scan and my husband got his peace of mind. The results, which still have to be analysed by my GP, look good at first glance, or so the immaculately presented woman who scanned me thought.

Today, upon reflection, I feel reassured and cheated out of $250 in about equal measure. I have had the same scan in the public system some years back, in fact more than once - only women bleeeeeeeed - and can confirm that the private system is not only much faster but much better looking. Park lands surround the private healthcare facility, as opposed to an endless grey car park for the public hospital, and the waiting room is up to the minute in décor with a huge flat-screen TV, as opposed to a poky, overcrowded room and box TV that clearly hasn't been upgraded since the seventies. The clientèle differ too: white and pale Asian in the private system, every colour and creed under the sun in the public system.

So the public-private division compounds racist divisions too. If the mostly white money-makers working in the private sector paid their full taxes and that money went where it should go - into public health and education - we could have public healthcare that provided for all equally and in a little more style, not perhaps rolling park lands but a few trees and slip of green grass to soften the concrete. The waiting room TV could be only ten years old, and most importantly, the wait for treatment could be reasonable, a few weeks rather than a few months. Ideally it would be possible to have a public system that meets demand as promptly as the private system, such that there would be no need for the private.

In the meantime, I am sorry to have enabled such an unequal system. But for purposes of research, if nothing else, I suppose it was quite useful.          

Monday, January 11, 2016


"For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth" (Isaiah, 21:6).

That's the first and the last time you'll hear me quote 'the Lord' - I promise.

Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman was a gift from my daughter for Christmas. Discovering it beneath the wrapper I was grateful, if slightly wary, knowing the unsettling controversy surrounding its publication, including the suggestion that it was not published with its' 89-year-old author's consent, and that it will ruin To Kill a Mockingbird for all its fans, of which I am one of the keenest. I have long envied Lee her loving and understanding father, while over-identifying with Scout, having been a wild girl child much like her. The fact that she grew up to be an author (assuming Scout is Lee, which she clearly is) sealed the deal for me. I am Scout. Our names even start with the same letter.

Last night I finished reading Watchman with a hardened heart. I have long been enraged about the state of the world and, in younger years, about my father for his part in it - for different reasons than Scout, but with a similar degree of daughterly resentment as Scout displays in this book, but not in Mockingbird. So I almost welcomed this turn towards the real and have no objection, as others do, to Scout venting her political rage at her father, having discovered that he is but an ordinary man with prejudices and power issues just like the rest of them, with very few exceptions.

But what I found too hard to bear was the final breaking of Scout's feisty spirit by a sharp slap across the mouth from her elderly uncle, Atticus's brother, at the end of the book, that brought blood to her mouth and made her dizzy almost to the point of fainting. From here, her defiant plans to leave and never return, so disgusted with her racist father and uncle is she, fall apart almost instantly and after a forced pint of hard booze and some patronising lecturing from the uncle - 'I have never hit a woman before' says he, almost victoriously; 'I think I need a drink' - she is filled with humiliation and shame about her rage against her father and after apologising with bowed head, acquiesces to him and his brother, the two wise men, by deciding to stay in Hicksville with them, to look after them, rather than go back to New York and her independence.

It's The Taming of the Shrew, only written by a woman. My Scout-envy is totally dead.

None of the deeply scathing reviews I have read of the book even mention the violence against Scout as among its problems. This is another problem. The main appeal of Mockingbird for me was always the wilful, 'unfeminine', whip-smart young Scout, not good and noble Atticus. In my opinion the book is as much a feminist story as a civil rights story. Indeed Calpurnia, the family's all-seeing black cook and substitute mother, was for me another well-crafted and strong female, if not feminist, character in Mockingbird. These characters are still in Watchman, if not nearly as alive. But when Scout capitulates after she has some sense smacked into her, Scout dies entirely. Lee seems to say: Men (self-important, racist men) do know best after all. Violence, especially against women, pays. No wonder Lee's female editor took a sharp red pen to it when the book, apparently a first draft of Mockingbird (something I can well believe, though others don't) appeared in draft form on her desk back in 1957. I wish I could do the same to the ending.

My author envy is gone and so is most (if not quite all) of my admiration and inspiration, leaving me kind of back where I started, but somehow still so much worse for the journey. How the mighty do fall.    

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Suffer the Suffragettes

Great job Sarah Gavron (Director), Alison Owen and Faye Ward (Production) and 
Abi Morgan (Writer). Suffragette was a long time in the making, with much persistent and dirty resistance to overcome along the way. Stuff the critics, now as then, we need this film - lest we forget that women fought and died heroes too, and lest we lose faith in the struggle, often bitter and bruising, that continues.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Spits and sparkles

While the sprinkler spits and sparkles silver in the sun like

a little girl in tantrum, as She watches over
with maternal condescension, as if it's
not all Her fault, I read new poetry
in place of resolutions
my mother's mind
from that time
to tease
a translation
for today to take away
for tomorrow when sense
might be made of the past brought forward

through Time's tenacious teacher
threading necklaces of knowing: "... is love
the tough, tensile wire desire insists along all the blood's
jumbled frequencies?" In apt answer, the sprinkler spits and sparkles on.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Parenting - ahhhhhh! Count the lasting contentment, the warm rewards, the simple, satisfying challenges. The gratitude.

Having researched and angsted long and hard over what to get my two late teen, early-twenties, computer raised and crazed boys for Christmas, I ended up buying a few books. I know. But I can't help myself.

One was tantalisingly titled Humans are Underrated (as close as I could get to 'Parents are Underrated') for the older boy who has long since decided that his computer is a much more understanding and competent parent than his two actual parents put together.

For the younger one who likes horror and end-of-the-world scenarios I got a haunted house story called Slade House, with a cool hidden reveal cover, surely enough to entice the young and curious to learn and please their parents?

Fast forward ten days and neither book has been read beyond the first pages that were dipped into during Christmas Day family present giving when there was nothing better to do, as the computers were safely whirring away upstairs, a whole floor away.

So last night I decided to gently broach the subject with the younger boy and suggested, when he confessed he hadn't read any more of his book since the 25th, that he read a few pages every day, assuring him that the more you read of a book the more it hooks you in, that the pay off is rarely disappointing.

'I know. I've read books before', he said with his characteristic sarcasm, to which I replied: 'Yes, but not that many books' (he's probably read less than 10 non-picture, non-school-assigned books in his 17 years, and that includes on the Kindle that we bought him two Christmases back.

'You don't have to be so patronising' was his next, somewhat fair but still frustrating answer, as it contained the infinitely more patronising: 'Mum, shut up, you don't know what you're talking about' tone that a mother knows means he is not remotely inclined to listen to her now or ever again.

'I'm not being patronising, I'm being parentising,' was my uncharacteristically quick-witted response that surprised me as much as him, I think, and brought a slight smile to his face, though it was hard to see in the thick gloom of a room without any light other than that coming from the screen on his desk that pulsed like the heart of the place if not the planet.

When all the people and books are long turned to ash, that hard red-black-white heart will be the only life, along with the cockroaches, left. I should think they'll get on famously.      

Friday, January 1, 2016

Traffic jams, wet mail and son's speeding fine - happy New Year!

Well hello to you, 2016! How will you be, I wonder, I dream...

If you're starting as you mean to go on, then for us, you are already shaping up to be a year of tedium, inconvenience and hair-pulling parental frustration, with but a few hours in delivering at least an hour of traffic standstill and a limp greeting awaiting us at home of a pile of wet bills, one of which was a speeding fine for a time and place when neither of us (the bill payers), were driving the car. Otherwise fine? Hopefully.

This dead tree photographed today on our way back from Opua in the north where we spent New Year's Eve with M's cousin's family, is not a classic symbol of hope, granted. But..., as we were stopped in a traffic jam at the time I took it, which enabled me to look more closely at its warped, bald beauty where I would have otherwise likely whizzed past at the usual highway rate, blissfully unawares, it could be seen as a symbol of looking on the bright side, and, if not exactly taking time to stop and smell the roses, then taking time to stop and look at death in a new light.

So let's toast to that, shall we? Let's make 2016 the year of looking at death - and so life - in a new appreciative light. Also, let's make it the year I get my first book published to rave reviews and record sales, shall we? We shall.