Sunday, December 29, 2013


My new iPhone 5C has made portable internet access so much easier, and yet it has its risks. I discovered this recently when innocently browsing late at night in bed.

Somehow I ended up on a site that told me that hundreds of women whom I knew, in my town, wanted to be my fuckbuddy.

Fuckbuddy is not a term that is in my active vocabulary. I am not sure what it is. I supposed it is one of those things the young people do nowadays, such as having friends with benefits or fedoras or what have you.

Naturally I was alarmed. I tried to get out of the site. All I got was the next screen, which contained a gif of a young woman performing what the police call an indecent act, on what was clearly a man. Parenthetically, I think that gifs are perfect for porn. Porn is so repetitive after all.

Further alarmed, I tried to get out again, but all I could do was shuttle between the two offending screens. I turned the whole thing off and on, and there it was again.  The hundreds of women. The indecent act. Damn.

The page told me that all I needed to do was answer three simple questions and I could go onto the site proper. I figured I could work this to my advantage. I would answer the questions wrong, and get kicked off the site. The first question was - Are you over 25? I answered no. The second question was - Have you ever had an STD? I answered yes. The third question was - Are you prepared to use a condom? I answered no. The page thought about all of this for a minute and then announced gleefully: Congratulations! You are eligible to join this site! 9,463 women are waiting to be your fuckbuddy!!!

At this point scepticism set it. I am not good at numbers, but I don't think I even know 9,463 women let alone ones in my town who are on porn sites. I suspect they are exaggerating. I wonder if they mean the number 9,463 as a sort of mythical device - the way large numbers are used in the Bible to indicate - well, large numbers. Like it says people lived for 900 years when actually they just meant 'a really really long time'. Or the army had 10,000 soldiers when really they just mean 'a lot of mean dudes'. Or, perhaps the number 9,463 is numerologically significant? Perhaps it indicates great sexual prowess in the ancient scriptures? Like the number of concubines of the legendary emperor Creosote?9,463 breaks down to 22 which breaks down to 4 - perhaps it refers to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of whom was a noted sex fiend, or Ovid's four Ages of Civilisation, or even the four pleasures of Omar Khayyam, which are less exciting than they seem. Or the four types of caviar.

None of these ideas flashed through my mind as I desperately tried to get out of the site. In the end I just sort of buried it. I found a way of getting to other sites I had meant to be on, before the fuckbuddy one, and I buried the offending site behind them all. Whew. Respectability restored, I turned the light off.

Oh, and a message to the 9,463 women out there - it's all right. I know that you don't really want to be my fuckbuddy and I don't want to be yours either.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


My little dog Tigger Ratbane, died on Wednesday.

He would have been 15 in February. He had several complicated medical problems, but what got him in the end was an unexpected and very fast growing tumour.

I said at the end of his life he was held together with love, and I meant it almost literally. The week before he died he was entertaining an elderly woman with dementia. He still liked to trot around the block and sniff and pee, and he was still mostly cheerful, but he was tired.

Today I miss him hugely. All the places we walked, and I would not have known about otherwise. Our daily routine, to which he was always faithful, right down to the little piece of cheese he got before he went to bed in his box. There are now many little spaces in my day, and some big ones.

Love is to our spiritual world as gravity is to the physical. It holds the planets in their courses. It binds us to the real earth, and lets us move in our destinies. I cannot say more about love. Language fails me here.

I can say something about how it is to love and be loved by someone from another species. This is remarkable, and yet it happens in households all over the world, and has done since the first brave children bonded with the first clever wolf puppies. What foresight. I still have no idea how we communicate across species - and yet I can still say that Tigger and I loved each other.

I have always been wary of anthropomorphism. I never liked being called 'Mummy' regarding the animals in my household, because I did not give birth to them. They are not children. They are not to be treated like human children, because that demeans them.

We demand contradictory things of animals. We want them to be like us, so we can relate to them and empathise with them. We say 'The chimpanzee is sitting like that because she is sad', or 'The sparrow is eating his tea'. Thus we ascribe human qualities to them. We also want them to be different from us, in several ways. Better than us, so we can aspire to qualities we think of as noble. We say, 'Animals would never be so cruel'. Lesser than us, so we can eat them or exploit them. We then other them - we say 'It's OK they don't feel things like we do'. All of these attitudes somehow exist concurrently, often within the same person. All of them might for all we know be incredibly wrong. Our relationship with animals is complex and more fraught than we think, and I suspect it is a new frontier in the area of civil rights and social inclusiveness.

It is this contradictory sameness and difference that backgrounds my wonder at how Tigger and I communicated. Maybe I am incredibly wrong, but I do feel he loved and was loved, and that love was his purpose. He came from love and he goes to love.

Now he is buried in our yard, wrapped in a linen shroud and facing Mecca. He had a kind of Muslim funeral; I chanted a prayer in Arabic for him. This was my idea of a theological joke. All animals are Muslims, as I have said in an earlier post. Islam means submission and animals, who do not have free will in Islam, thus submit naturally to the will of God. But in Islamic lore only one dog, the dog who guarded the Seven Sleepers goes to heaven. My joke is that Tigger gets to be the second dog.

Tigger Ratbane aka the Tiny Taco Terrier.
20.2.99 - 16.12.2013

Good Dog.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two cows enter. One cow leaves.

The sign said, car park, two hours. A bit longer than the walk up the valley, but probably a better view. I decided to take it.

Up on the tablelands, tussock, tall Californian thistles, cow pats the size of satellite dishes, should have alerted me to what came next. But they were up the hill a little and I didn't see them until I was close enough to be in their space.

Cows. Great big fucking big huge cows. They were so big they loomed. They were big and black and looming. Did I explain that they were, like, really big?

One of the more daffy projects of Nazi Germany was the attempt to back breed aurochsen. Aurochsen were giant cows with great sweeping horns. They went extinct in the seventeenth century. The Heck brothers, encouraged by Goering, attempted to back breed the largest and most primitive cattle to get something like an aurochs. Goering had the idea of turning eastern Europe into his own private hunting ground. There are still faux aurochsen around, called Heck cattle. And a more recent attempt, called TaurOs, is using our new knowledge of genetics. Don't quite know why they want to back breed aurochsen, really. Goering saw the aurochs as a symbol of Teutonic might. Perhaps we could back breed something a bit less culturally laden - perhaps dire wolves or - wow - giant sloths! That would be cool.

Anyway these big huge looming cows seemed as big as Heck cattle.

I am a city girl. Well, OK, I come from a little town you've probably never heard of, but I live in a city of sorts and my idea of the countryside is it's the stuff that happens between cities. I like nature. I like walks in native forests. My idea of nature is bellbirds and faeries. I can handle the faeries. As I've said before, my Weird Shit-o-meter goes up to 11. Not so sure about the big huge looming cows though. Proceed with caution, I figured. After all, they are herbivores. They eat grass, for pity's sake. I just hope someone has remind them of that recently.

Then I noticed they were steeren. I am not sure of the plural for steer, but I figure steeren is a good word, makes them sound bigger and fiercer than steers, like aurochsen which is the plural for aurochs. So they were young guy cattle and they were a bit full of themselves that day.

Some of them were sort of bouncing on all legs and flicking their tails. Then one of them wound it up a bit. He started rocking forward and aft, tossing his head. Then he cantered off down the hill and just casually shoulder barged another steer.

That steer lowered his head and said, like, 'Listen, shithead. Do that again and we throw down'.

The first steer said 'Yeah well bring it, motherfucker!'

The rest of the steeren immediately gathered around. Gosh, it was like primary school all over again, when everyone rushes over and shouts 'Fight! fight! fight!'. The air was full of steerosterone. Whoah! Here I was in the bovine version of Thunderdome. Two cows enter! One cow leaves! The steeren raised their heads and mooed. They flanked each other and pawed the earth. They lay their heads along each others backs and rose up on each other in a blurred mix of fighting, mating and playing. Touch! Pause! Engage!

Then they noticed me.

I didn't care if they were herbivores. Neither the tall Californian thistles nor the cow pats the size of satellite dishes stopped me until I was over the stile and away. As I headed back down the valley I could hear the terrifying din of the steeren, echoing from the Thunderdome, calling to their fellows each to each about the little puny human that got away.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Eastgate is probably Christchurch's most low-rent shopping mall, and it is my local. I make jokes about shopping in Linwood, where people wear hoodies and pyjama bottoms to the mall. But at Eastgate it is safe to be obese, or very old, or Samoan. You don't have to move very fast. It is OK to hang around for a while, and it is small enough for the shop keepers to know each other and have some collegiality. There are few big stores and big names, apart from McDonalds, and no flash brands. You don't see Gucci, or Merrill, or Bose.

Even here the world of wealth is on display. You can buy a diamond ring, or a pot of $100 face cream. You can spend a couple of hundred dollars on clothes without trying.

I figure most of this is beyond many of the people who shop there.

This week a report was issued about monitoring child poverty in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Its authors are the Children's Commissioner, the JR McKenzie Trust, and Otago University. They crunched the numbers themselves, because they were concerned about the government's apparent lack of interest in social research. Their findings have been widely reported even in mainstream media.

265,000 children, or 25% of the child population, live in poverty. 180,000 go without basic necessities. 10% live at the hardest end. 3 in 5 children living in poverty will live this way for many years. The epidemiologists who did the research talked about the effect of this on the health system. The Children's Commissioner talked about how this affects the economy and the social climate. Here in New Zealand, we have a large body of academics and public servants who are increasingly at odds with government policy, and who are now willing to appear partisan, to make large statements about obvious growing gap between rich and poor.

I am still surprised at the reactions of many ordinary people to this report, as well as ongoing investigations by the Campbell Live TV programme. There seem to be two main strands of thought. One says that, well, we work hard and we are poor too. Fair enough. The other says that the poor are at fault. They should have fewer children. They should not eat junk food. They are probably addicts. . They exploit the benefit systems and perpetuate a cycle of dependence and ignorance. They spend their money on TVs and Playstations instead of food.

I am of the generation that had state help. I was raised partly in social housing. I was unemployed a lot during my youth, and managed on welfare benefits without hardship. I was given a temporary paid job at the university, and thought maybe I was brainy enough to study. I did two degrees paid for by the state, and worked part time enough to manage in comfort. Once I got a grown up job, the state funded a cheap loan into my first house. We raised our child on mostly one income. We are not one-above-average-income-per-person rich but damn well rich enough . And lucky enough to be borne aloft by the last bright bubble of the welfare state for which New Zealand was once famous. I am not stupid with money but I am not smart either. I don't have to be. I have the luxury of being able to think about other things.

Poverty in New Zealand is about food and shelter and warmth and health. It is also about relative inclusiveness and being able to participate in society and have some choices. When you are very poor, you can't think about much else. Financial stress overwhelms you. You can't do the math because it doesn't add up. There is no budget advice to give. Any small mistake follows you for ever. You can't afford to register your car, so you get fines which turn into debts that criminalise you. Your cell phone broke and you can't afford a new one, so they can't contact you and you don't know about the appointment and they cut your benefit. For the lack of the nail, the shoe was lost, and so on.

Being poor, especially if you are on welfare, is a great opportunity to practise the great virtues. You are expected to manage the Byzantine labyrinth that is the welfare system with perseverance and determination. You are expected to wait for hours with dignity and patience. You are expected to be scrupulously honest and trustworthy if you want to retain your benefit payments. And always, always, you must exercise the virtues of self discipline and restraint. To survive at welfare level, whether or not you are in paid work, you must never buy ice cream, or take a holiday, or go to a movie, or buy that dress. Never make an impulsive purchase. Never get ripped off. Never say, oh sod it, let's just do it. And you must be aware that the minutiae of your lives are being monitored, so you must always act with care and temperance, in case you are discovered thinking or acting on something else other than the whimsical demands of the welfare system.

I wish I could always be so virtuous. I confess I have been known to lose my temper and cry. I have lacked tolerance in dealing with organisations, especially when I have been tired or stressed. I have made unwise purchases. I have bought stupid shit on impulse and regretted it. Things even stupider than a kangaroo onesie!  And I confess, there have been times I have eaten too much.

Not that anybody minds or even notices. The welfare system does not mind if I smoke weed or sleep with whole football teams. I am rich enough to avoid the benefit system and free to indulge as is my libertarian right. As long as I consume I have done my civic duty.
If I criticised people for being poor I would be holding them to moral standards greater than to which I have achieved. This is the other side of the argument about the morals and values of the poor. Our Prime Minister described this society as 'aspirational'. I think he means the poor should aspire to the values of the rich. But the rich don't need to be morally virtuous. If we want to acquire virtue, perhaps we should look to our expectations of those 'least' in our world.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sounds I like

I had the idea of writing poems the ways children are asked to do at primary school. They choose a colour or an emotion or an idea and write simple poems around the one word. Like 'blue' or 'caterpillar'.

These are about sounds I like. I wanted to use simple and onomatopoeic language to convey impressions rather than larger ideas.

I think I like the humility of small sounds doing useful things.

Here we go:

The long zip zings
of Summer
and travel
and the outdoors.
I shiver.
It is so delicious I do it again.
Each opening and closing
a tiny hint
of change.

Dial up:
In the beginning we waited as the whirr and screech
did its fussy little work.
Something alchemical happened in the ether -
And then -
The World!

The weights I ease to rest in their cradles
clunk -
self satisfied -
a little smirk.
Job done.
A moment conquered.