Thursday, April 27, 2017

To BBC or not to BBC

So here are the world's most tattooed senior citizens. Quite the distinction. I bring them to your attention because they are the present feature on the BBC world service radio programme 'Outlook' that has requested a copy of my book from the publishers with a view to interviewing me for their extraordinary personal stories series.

I'm not sure if it takes my achievement down a notch to be likened to extreme tattooists, but I think, or like to think, my 'extraordinariness' - if extraordinariness it is - is not quite so..., so..., I don't know how to characterise tattooing. It's brave in a way, but many would consider it more foolhardy than brave. Perhaps they would regard the 'bravery' required to do stand-up comedy in the same vein. There are similarities.

And I do like their tattoos, as much as I like any tattoos, at least.

Anyway, the BBC have to read and like my book first of all and then decide if my story is extraordinary enough. As the Sydney Morning Herald described my book as 'a memoir of ordinary events and aspirations', if they decide that it is, it would be a wonderful correcting of that clunky put-down - and from my home town too. They could have done better than 'ordinary.'

Of course a few people rushed then as they are rushing again now to remind me that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary. But I think that's kind of crap. I know what they mean, but I think closer to the truth is that all lives are extraordinary, just that some are more extraordinary than others, or more extraordinary in some way.

I hope mine is extraordinary enough.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Monday Extract is Me!

Me in 1982 and in The Spinoff yesterday
So I am glad my father came back from the war more or less intact, sure. I am also glad that the Kiwis and Aussies who fought alongside in the previous war, for one day a year - today (Anzac Day) - forget their often antipathetic relationship to come together to commemorate that bloody brotherhood battle with a mutual holiday and various dawn parades. I need these countries to get along, my flexibility to straddle the two with dignity is fast dwindling - I am not the dancer I once was, indeed.

But, with all due respect to battles of brotherhood on which nations are forged and f*cked, today, for me, is more about commemorating (celebrating) a slightly smaller but in some ways no less bloody battle to make a name for myself in the book business, a business that has suffered significant casualties in recent years with new authors positioned front and centre on the bloody battle lines - armed with only a leaky pen.

But yesterday - today for Americans, who are my main blog readers - an extract of my memoir published last May was printed here in The Spinoff online magazine in 'The Monday Extract' with this photo and a little blurb about me and my current mad bid to become a stand-up comedian (more on that later).

Quite a few have shared it on Facebook already, the majority of them people I don't know, so that feels like a small victory and a few metres of enemy territory gained. Hopefully it translates into a few more sales too, as my pen is in need of reloading for the difficult second assault (Vol.II).


Thursday, April 20, 2017

The age of equality

The 'Caring Counts'  report that helped deliver a long overdue 
$2 billion dollar gender pay-equity deal 

Jane Fonda's 2011 TED talk on the power of ageing
and justice for the aged 

Politics is a dirty business, make no mistake, and our right-wing government's recent decision to support a massive pay-equity increase to the mostly female workforce employed in the aged care and wider paid-care sector is a blatant election-year stunt.

The same government previously went out of its way to block pay equity and before that, in 1991, its ideological ancestors passed the Employment Contracts Act that did away with collective bargaining, dismantling the union's power and leaving it up to the individual to negotiate his/her own wages and conditions.  Hence the pay gap between employers and employees, rich and poor, men and women increased steeply, and was particularly stark in the female-dominated caring sector. As the Caring Counts report stated:

"Carers are completely undervalued. We do a job that no-one sees.
We are a vulnerable workforce looking after vulnerable people."

Kristine Bartlett
For the male dominated right-wing government to take electoral credit for putting right what they went out of their way to put wrong less than twenty years earlier, is political cynicism in the extreme, and even then, wouldn't have happened if not for a Human Rights Commission report and one particularly determined aged-care worker, Kristine Bartlett, who'd been on the same $14.40 per hour wage after twenty years in the job and spent years fighting in the courts for pay equity for women workers like her until she finally succeeded.

The courts also finally ruled that NZ was in breach of the International Labour Organisation Equal Remuneration Convention (1983). In fact there was equal-pay legislation in place in New Zealand as far back as 1972 and the left-wing had done its best to equalise pay for women and other disadvantaged groups whenever it was in government. But as in all western countries the bastards on the wrong wing have dominated and have systematically set about undoing many of these pay-equity gains.

If the present wrong-wingers use this move as leverage to get reelected for a fourth term I worry that the gains won't be worth the price paid, as they will no doubt continue to cut funding in the rest of the health-care system beyond election year. It's a depressing thought and a fundamental flaw in the democratic system.

But I take some comfort in public politicisation processes, like TED talks, that are proliferating every year and giving voice to an ever wider array of people, like Jane Fonda, who have the power to popularise unpopular messages, such as justice for the older of age and older women specifically - 'the largest demographic in the world' - to a global, cross-partisan, cross-cultural, all-age, all-gender audience. The future of justice for all is in their hands, ultimately, as party politics and the formal political system become increasingly corrupted by big money and big fear-mongering madness.

Still, in the short term this is a big win for NZ's women and a massive credit to the tireless work of one woman in particular, whose caring work in looking after the elderly for twenty years was valued over that period, if not always, as work of minimum value to society. Rubbish collection (men's work) is paid more. But she showed them her real worth in never giving up and so paved the way, as far as she could, for justice for other chronically undervalued women. Thanks Kristine; your work is priceless.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Beauties and Beasts

Two cute little girls, 8 or 9 years old, sat unsupervised across the aisle from us in the cinema for Beauty and the Beast last weekend, eating noisily and dashing off to the back of the cinema whenever 'the Beast' appeared, which was quite regularly. I guess their mothers were beyond Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps they were working.

This is a story traditionally made and marketed for little girls, and perhaps they took some pleasure in this dashing off, but they seemed genuinely scared and the Beast was definitely made to scare (probably for the fathers of the little girls or their brothers who were forced to watch it) and it is not fun to be genuinely scared, not if you're a girl, at least. My grown sons assure me that it is fun to be scared, if you're a boy, though as I recall when they were that age they didn't like it quite so much.

Although I normally hate noisy eaters in cinemas and found 'the Beast' and the rest of the film far from frightening, being a not so little girl anymore, these noisy little girls and their terrified dashings-off for the illusion of safety of the back wall of the cinema, I found increasingly charming and by the end of the film, was enjoying them more than the film.

The film is, as most films and stories targeted to females have always been, about one beautiful female character and a whole bunch of varied male characters. Male-targeted films and stories, like Lord of the Rings, do not apply the gender reverse of this formula, needless to say (in a man's world), they just add even more males and usually a less significant role for the one beautiful female, if any role at all. It's a problem, still.

And yet I found myself defending the film to my daughter the other day who rubbished it on feminist grounds (though she hasn't seen it), because I kind of think that, apart from the obvious gender imbalances, and the only-beautiful-women-count tiresome trope, this story does at least feature a fully-fledged female character in the lead role.

The story is also a little more gender evolved than it might seem. In suggesting that true love is the only way to tame the selfish beast in men, though slightly oversimplified and romanticised no doubt, I think it gets to the essential truth of heterosexual relationships, a truth that is not seen nearly often enough on our screens. Rather we are told over and over that men are the heroes who rescue women from danger, loneliness and insignificance. In reality this rarely happens and, indeed, the greatest threat women face is from the men they live with who have not been tamed and who continue - with society's sanctioning - to put their selfish, boyish needs ahead of those of the family, while wanting to control and dominate their women instead of loving and supporting them. In relationships that do work, more often than not it is the women who rescue the men from themselves, or there is a mutual 'rescuing' and respect.

So although I wouldn't describe Beauty and the Beast as a feminist film exactly, and I'm not sure those two little girls would have learnt anything progressive from watching it -- those parts of it that they did watch -- I think we could do worse on a gender front than this fairly light and entertaining family film. We could do better, no doubt, but we have done a lot worse too, and I'm mildly encouraged that with this film we are inching closer to an on-screen representation of what a healthy relationship between a woman and a man looks like - if with a little too much fur, fang and frill.


Monday, April 10, 2017

John Clarke dies

Fred Dagg
The funniest man down under, if not up over, has died. It's a shock and a tragedy, he was only 68! I can't believe it.

Incredibly, I was recently in communication with him about playing my father if my childhood memoir was ever adapted for TV (a big if, no doubt), but he liked the idea, rather than dismissed it, saying 'what a good photo' it was of my father that I sent him. He could see the likeness.

NZ commentators are saying 'he found the nation's funnybone' and he did. And in tribute, we have the annual Fred Award at the NZ International Comedy Festival for the best comedy show named after his first satirical character, Fred Dagg, the farmer with seven sons, all named Trevor.

After that he became the undisputed king of Australian political satire and his 1999 mockumentary series The Games, about Sydney's preparations for the Olympic games was the forerunner of The Office and just as clever and funny, though not quite as widely lauded, and more's the pity for that.

He was (no is!!!) one of the cleverest and funniest men on television and my comedy idol and mentor.

His death is not funny, of course, but everything else he did was, and there will never be anyone like him. It's almost like losing Dad again.

Rest in parody, John Clarke.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A town down

If ever a picture told a thousand words, this picture of the floods in Edgecumbe, the Bay of Plenty NZ, taken yesterday by journalist Luke Appleby did and does. The whole town was evacuated to higher ground just in time before the river's flood-bank broke.

It was the tail end of Cyclone Debbie that flooded parts of Queensland earlier in the week and here is said to be a one in 500-year storm, with the flood-banks only built to take a one in one-hundred-year storm.

I guess global warming has made an arse of those figures, if it's fair to attribute such record-breaking natural disasters to that. I think it must be, but I'm no scientist.

Here in Auckland, two-hundred or so kilometres north of this town, the same night we experienced the heaviest rain we have ever experienced in our twenty-plus years at this address. It was so heavy that out walking after dinner in a momentary reprieve from the deluge, I heard a strange rumble in the near distance and wondered what it was. It sounded motorised. I dismissed it, but walked on, away from our house, a little faster just in case. But I didn't seriously think it could be rain. I had never heard rain that loud while walking under a dry sky.

Five seconds later I turned back, running for home, as the roar arrived in a stunning hurry, dumping a vertical tsunami of water on me - the only person fool enough to be out in it - drenching me through in about four seconds while I ran screaming for home. I didn't even have an umbrella.

We are on high ground here but it was still frightening, the sudden explosion of the skies and the intensity of the roar that came with it. You could swear there was attitude in that roar. Had I pissed off some god somewhere? More than likely.

Our garden flooded in parts but it drained off by morning. I don't know how people recover from this level of flooding -- the mud, the mess, the carpets, the walls -- but at least they got a warning and were able to evacuate in time. Hopefully the authorities realise they are going to be dealing with this sort of thing slightly more often than every 500 years and build stronger floodgates.

As for me, I will do what I can not to piss off the gods, and take an umbrella just in case.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Green Light Sigh

So Lorde's latest hit song Green Light is great, but that's not what concerns us here, at least not directly. Indirectly, maybe.

But first, what we're concerned with here is this green light sigh from that tedious English guy in response to Melbourne's recent move to install recognisably female road-crossing signals alongside the recognisably male symbols that have been the norm there, here and everywhere since roads got busy and governments decided they needed to encourage people to cross them with care.

Admittedly, men probably needed more help to know when to cross a busy road and when not to than women did (and do), but still. We mustn't assume that. We must assume that men are as capable of careful crossing as women.

I think the fact that this move in Melbourne came in early March just after the release of Lorde's new single was probably a happy coincidence, but you never know. Women are organising our efforts better than we ever have done before, and Lorde is one of the most outspoken feminist role models for strong, smart and feisty young women of her generation. It was also the day before International Women's day, so that might have been a factor too.

But whatever else, the timing is clearly a reflection of the feminist fourth wave we are currently riding that seeks to challenge the small and big biases in public life that continue to endorse the male as primary and normative and position the female as other and secondary - if present at all.

The traffic signal changes were funded by community groups and businesses, not tax payers, and have only switched six male signs to female signs so far, so it's a fairly small step for equality. But it's a significant step even so, or it wouldn't piss off men like Morgan, although he and his ilk are a touchy lot.

More unfortunately it has also pissed off some women; indeed the 'feminism at its worst' comment that was the basis of the Telegraph article in Morgan's tweet, came from a woman. Sigh.

Of course there are plenty of women who don't identify with dresses and we women have fought for the right to wear trousers, after all. But surely you don't need to like wearing dresses to see that the traditional symbol is masculine and to know that it went unchallenged all these years because men were considered to be the norm by those people, invariably men, who got to decide what went where in the public (if not the private) sphere.

The bias was so pervasive it would have been unconscious, so these men who set up the signs would have just said 'we need a sign to show people when to cross' and that sign would have been made in the shape of a man, without 'gender' ever being mentioned. Same goes for the male pronoun standing in for 'people' for so many centuries of the written word.

Unfortunately that's not a luxury women (feminists) have. Signs and stories never have been and never will be unconsciously made in our image. So we have to make conscious changes and many changes seem small but are significant because those bigger changes, like the right to vote, to work, to choose, to wear trousers, etc, are made up of all these smaller changes that gradually, and often unconsciously, shift attitudes about who we are and what we need to be and do to be happier as people one and all and less in conflict with each other.

So I say this is feminism at its walking best. It's not a giant or even a small leap, to be sure, but it is a safe step in the right direction.

Walk with me and you will see that we can be as one free; that just came to me in a fabulous feminist flash. I think I feel a song coming on, I will call it 'Walk with me.'

PS: Just found out that Wellington, NZ had installed suffragette Kate Sheppard images for eight of its road-crossing signs earlier this year, not to suggest it's a competition between Australia and NZ. Far be it from me to do that!

However I think I prefer Kate's retro dress. Just saying (and that NZ was first to grant women the right to vote).