Plastic Man

Has there been anything more awkward in the last year than seeing the men of New Zealand making a trip to the supermarket, clutching a set of cloth shopping bags?

Most of us have now completely adjusted to this modern-day inconvenience by forgetting the bags and just buying eight new ones each time we do a “little top-up”.

For some of the blokes, it’s been a hard row to hoe.

Previously, you could just rock up to Countdown empty-handed. There was none of this “carrying something” in your hands.

All you were supposed to be doing is to going to get really normal things like a 60-watt bulb for the second toilet, conditioner with Argan oil in it, a new Sistema lunchbox for Tarquin (he lost his at sports day yesterday and you were on lunches this morning and had to give him his lunch in the plastic bag that was used to buy gala apples), a box of Cadbury Roses as it’s your wife’s line manager’s last day of work tomorrow, and finally, “something for tea”. How much harder could it get?

Well, a lot harder. Now the blokes are being reminded to “take some bags” and load them into the Highlander or they’d have to “buy them at the checkout, and I’ve calculated that if you did that every time you went shopping, we’d be paying around $43.60 per year just on bags alone”.

No-one wants to undergo that kind of crippling financial mismanagement, and so, “carry the recyclable bags” has become the accepted state.

But how to carry them? Most of the blokes go for the grab; rather like weeding a garden, they carry the bags like pestilence that is being fully owned.

Angry with the bags and recycling in general, the bags are an amalgam of anything, really. Mitre 10, a couple of old, unacceptable thick Countdown 0.15c bags, a paper bag and one of the wife’s hessian Karen Walker totes. Awkward, but still there’s enough scope to look as if you sincerely don’t give a shit about reusable bags in general. The look of one who refuses to put all the other bags inside the Karen Walker tote, and hold it by the handles like a rational person.

Elsewhere, there’s the anti-establishment/global type who only takes one bag. If that. Generally speaking, they are being sent to do just the “dinner run”. They have no shopping list or any real idea of what they’re doing. They alight from their Touareg, parked in the “10 mins only” space. They bring no harm to humanity at all.

Inside the supermarket, they utterly cannot understand why they are there or how they were coerced into doing this run. Wasn’t the full weekly shop done yesterday and delivered by the Online Shopping method?

Never mind, it’s too late now. Into the craft beer section they go, loading an innocent six-pack of Parrot Dog APA into the trolley, then heading to the meat section. Meat, it seems, is on special this week, and a lovely piece of eye fillet, at only $36.50 per kg, goes into the wheel-cart.

A quick pit-stop at the clingfilm, wraps and bags section sees three or four different configurations of bin liners land in the trolley, and then finally, the pièce de résistance: a hot cooked chicken, packed with sage and onion stuffing, is dispatched into a foil-lined, non-recyclable bag and away our shopper goes to the self-checkout.

He’s smug in the knowledge that he has got tea sorted, but the self-checkout machine is proving to be an utter nightmare today and the red siren of destiny whorls atop the nagging checkout unit. Everyone else brought their bags and is having a smooth run and is leaving with everything strategically packed in their multiple remembered bags, except one hapless human being.

After six goes of being released from the foibles of the self-checkout machine by the long-suffering self-checkout manager (“sorry, sir your wallet and keys are in the bagging area.” “Sorry again sir haha you are leaning on the bagging area.”), he is released to freedom.

Back home, he proudly displays the cooked chicken, beer, plastic and steak on the bench which is subsequently met by

“Can you put the bag (singular) back in the car”.

It’s a long row to hoe, with bag carrying, it could be one of the biggest challenges facing humanity this decade. Even just remembering another thing is a challenge.

But look how far we’ve come.

For more interesting hot-takes on recyclable bags, don’t forget this

The Year of the Tarquin

More 2020 devastation

It was Tarquin’s year.

While everyone around him was falling to pieces over lockdowns or masks or Trump or Judith Collins, Tarquin had actually quite enjoyed the apocalypse. And then the strangest thing happened.

It was the day that Twitter broke, and he watched both his parents rage-refresh their screens for a solid five minutes before quickly switching over to Facebook where he could see them huddling with their friend groups, people they’d not necessarily even met, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on, worrying and theorising on the cause of it and all the while collectively humiliated at having to use Facebook as a means to stay sane. It was only just the slightest step-up from LinkedIn. Tarquin’s dad had entertained the thought of going over there and perhaps posting a small cry for help amongst his 458 connections, but he figured it wasn’t the best career move.

Tarquin watched his parents, usually calm and collected, turn into two 16 year olds whose WiFi had gone down right in the middle of a Fortnite event.

It had a mildly amusing Pied Piper feel to it. The parents emerged from their respective rooms, almost drifting to the sound of inaudible pipes, to ask what had happened to the Twitter, the bewilderment on their faces only matched when the rugby wasn’t going too well, or dad’s tandoori oven he’d built during Lockdown One wasn’t getting quite get hot enough.

The year of our Lord 2020 kept coming at the middle classes unlike any other year. Tarquin swung back in his gaming chair, hands clasped behind his head.

Have you tried just scheduling the Tweets you want to send?

Dad scowled, openly. Usually mild-mannered, Dad had had a gutsful of 2020. “YES I HAVE TRIED THAT THANK YOU TARQUIN.”

It was quite something to watch. What did they want to tweet about anyway? That they couldn’t tweet? They were doing that over on Facebook and the double dipping seemed a little unnecessary to be honest.

The Dad and the Mum sat there refreshing, wondering what they were missing out on, wondering why the Herald at the very least hadn’t written a story about the outage using people’s Facebook comments, with Tarquin watching and wondering why HIS PARENTS WERE FALLING APART.

And it felt good. Tarquin felt a sense of control and calm wash over him, like his favourite Lynx Toxic body wash.

He slowly got up out of his gaming chair, something that really ordinarily never happened in any meaningful way, walked to the living room and quietly, in a patronising nasally, white middle class tone said:

Why don’t you two put your phones down and use the time to go for a nice walk.

The sound of Dad’s phone being angrily thrown onto the couch was like music to Tarquin’s ears.

Twenty twenty was a good year for Tarquin. Tarquin had arrived.

Rites of Passage: Skateaway to Paradice

Coz this is Thriller

I was an awkward teen, a late starter in every way possible.

I seemed to hit puberty later than everyone else. I lost my virginity at 18, way after everyone else.

All through school until I left, I was a virgin who, sadly, grew up in the awkward ’80s, wearing shit fashions, awkwardly, flat-chestedly trying to find my niche.

I never really did.

I was happy though. Partly, it was because I didn’t know anything. I was an ignorant, awkward, non-sporting, only-just-in-the-upper-band plain girl. There wasn’t the height for netball, there wasn’t the speed for sprinting, there wasn’t the parental income for impressive Reeboks. My main talents were distracting classmates with notes with jokes on them and knowing all the lyrics to Seven and the Ragged Tiger.

I had the immense privilege of being ignorant.

Back then, as I now helpfully explain to my kids, we didn’t have the Internet. We had places to ‘hang out’; either friends’ bedrooms, or public spaces like Paradice and Skateaway, which were the two local roller- and ice-skating franchised emporiums.

I’d spend every weekend at Skateaway. They had sessions from 2–4pm, and the buildup was immense. Mum or dad were forced to drive us there, dropping us dutifully over the road from the venue, before speeding off into the afternoon of preparing the chicken thigh casserole and warming up Channel One for Stars on Sunday.

My friend and I would line up. The cool kids brought their own skates and had square cigarette packet bulges in their back pockets. We’d stand in the “To Hire” queue, a much less bespoke experience, but a chance to dial the adrenaline up to 11, while mentally ticking the roll: that’s Jason; he’s in Form Four at Pakuranga College. There’s Toby; he’s currently suspended because he walked over to the Paparoa Road dairy during social studies and stole a K-Bar. There’s Tanya, she has a roll-bag and does gymnastics.

Here’s me. I’m 14. I have a wallet with Good Times emblazoned on it. I’ve never kissed anyone, and I’m wearing baggy jeans and a fisherman’s rib jumper. No part of my body can be seen except my face, which is made-up with a rudimentary blue eye-shadow and a clear lip-gloss.

We are issued our skates and we’re off, inside this strange world for two hours. I daren’t look at my Swatch the whole time because I don’t want to miss a thing and I never want to go home.

Inside, the confident kids are already on the rink, skating backwards to Goody Two-Shoes by Adam and the Ants. It’s unbelievably intimidating, but in my mind it’s a life-goal. I twirl my souvenir shop gold necklace on my fingers and wait until there’s a song I love enough to get out there and shakily go anti-clockwise until the DJ booms breathily into the mic:

Chaaaaaannnnnggggeeeeeeee

The DJ has girlfriends plural. They are all blondes. He is the youth pastor at Elim Church but still seems to be swinging his penis around like a windmill. Suddenly, without warning, he puts on Thriller.

We’re allowed to skate and watch the video on the big screen at the same time. It’s surreal watching Michael Jackson dancing so ably, juxtaposed with one hundred white teenagers, skating as if they are walking on comedy ball-bearings.

Soon, my friend meets a boy, and the couples skate takes off. They hold hands and skate at a different pace to each other to Turn Me Loose by Loverboy. Half an hour later, they are pashing violently on the reddy-orange carpet in front of everyone.

I’m alone, so I awkwardly buy an Icey from the kiosk but then it’s 4pm and time to wrap this gig up. I find my friend, who is virtually now married, and we sadly hand over our skates to the guy at the skate hire (who is wearing skates).

My friend’s mum is waiting for us in the carpark. She asks us if we met boys, and I inwardly eyeroll. If I’m honest, they didn’t play New Moon On Monday or Lovecats and I’m unfulfilled.

If I’m honest I hate the wistfulness of feeling alone, but I’m happy. I endeavor to try harder next week; perhaps I’ll wear mascara and tighter jeans.

Perhaps they’ll play In A Big Country.

If I had my own skates, I’d practise in the garage.

Now, I just wish 50-year-old me was there for 14-year-old me.

____

This blog post is dedicated to Paula.







SWAP FWYH

“Good as new condition”

Any of you who are aged 50 years old or older will remember the good old days of buying second-hand goods in New Zealand.

They were the days of the Trade & Exchange.

If you wanted a good second-hand fridge for your flat, you would open up the publication and look under a section called “whiteware”. You’d scroll with your finger down the printed listings until an unbelievable deal jumped out at you.

Fridge-freezer. Kelvinator. 1.5m x 1m x 1m. As is where is. Needs new seals. Will swap FWYH. ph 5347895

You’d pick up your landline and frenzy-dial. David would answer at the other end.

David.

Oh Hi David. I’m interested in the fridge in the Trade and Exchange. Would you be keen to swap for a bass amp. It’s been used for busking only.

Bring it around. I’m at 15 Parade Drive, Buckland’s Beach. It has a caravan out the front.

And away you’d go. With the trusty amp in the boot, it seemed like a deal too good to be true. You had the Araldite at the ready to stick the fridge seals back on. You were a complete cheap skate, only one degree removed from Steptoe & Son.

On approach to David’s house, you could see he was a professional T & E’er. Indeed there was a caravan outside. It was white and orange and all the window apertures were rusted out. Next to it was a series of flax bushes surrounded by car tyres. In the entrance way there were two white swan tyre sculptures. The starlings on the front lawn took flight at the sound of your rattling trailer.

David himself was a shaggy individual who looked like he could use a decent shaving-foam shave rather than the quick once-over with the Remington electric that he’d clearly been using for several years. His wife, Barbara, was making white bread sandwiches in the kitchen; it was 12:34pm according to the stove clock.

The kitchen cupboards had a peeling brown wood-panelled verneer on them. The sandwiches looked ok, they were corned beef and mustard.

David would take you out to the garage and show you the fridge. It was a forlorn-looking appliance, the racks inside had lost some of their coatings and the butter conditioner door had broken off. There were no egg holder trays and no ice makers.

You can get those off the Trade & Exchange

David was a gruff individual.

Still, a swap was a swap and David, with absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, took the amp and handtrucked the fridge onto your trailer.

There was no feedback to leave, and all you could really do was just take the old junk and hope that the $5 of petrol and the $50 trailer hire was worth the pain of a trip to Buckland’s Beach.

Later that week you’d notice that David had listed the amp under the musical instruments section, this time requesting a specific swap in the form of a fly-screen door.

You’d moved on though, and were searching for a car radiator for your Mitsubishi Mirage GLX. It had overheated on the way over to pick up a Trade from Westmere and word on the street was that you could DIY another one in. Never mind that it needed a recore, never mind that you’d later spend $150 on coolant, you just wanted the thing to get you through the next few months of your commute to your job at Sounds Unlimited on Queen Street.

David, meanwhile got his fly screen door. It was a manky piece of shit, but he dutifully installed it so that the flies stayed out while Barbara deep-fried their chips in the fryer they scored from Jonathan, another chronically addicted T & E loser.

All was well in David’s rusted-out world. He fingered the brass salad servers on the formica credenza and poured himself a ginger beer (homemade), all the while eyeing up the deep fryer, bubbling enthusiastically on the bench.

Extremely Online

Dad had made a pretty awesome tandoori oven in the backyard

Tarquin stretched and yawned.

It was a new, fresh day. There was nothing on his to-do list other than to roll over and sleep until 12:35, then hop out of bed and head to the kitchen where his mother was making another loaf of sourdough for her instagram following (of 14).

Everyone was online in one way or another in this household. Especially Tarquin.

He’d thought he might take a few hours off and do a workout he’d read about online, but honestly, what was the point of that? Instead, he headed back to his darkened room, switched on the lights and warmed up his gaming centre.

Mum’s sourdough swelled up very enthusiastically

In the kitchen, Mum’s sourdough swelled enthusiastically in the oven, while Dad continued with the garden archway project he’d started on precisely Thursday 26th March, at dawn. It turned out there was simply nothing you couldn’t make with a couple of shitty old pieces of lattice and a coat of bright blue paint left over from the swimming pool job completed in 1986.

Tarquin’s sister, Ella, was busy practising a few ballet moves in the garage at the barre dad had whittled out of a spare tanalised fence post.

Elsewhere, Tubby the cat licked its arse in the sunshine, and in reality, all was well in Tarquin’s world.

The long afternoon stretched into night, and the smell of the chicken cooking in the tandoori oven Dad had constructed in the backyard on Friday 27th March, was mouthwatering. As Mum fired up the rice cooker, she made a note on her shopping list to get more rice, as there were only four 5kg sacks left in the house.

Ella had completed her Sanskrit course at last, and Mum was necking a gin and tonic whilst trying to film herself doing so for instagram.

Tarquin yawned and wondered when the shops would be open again. While he understood the theory behind a lockdown during a pandemic, and enjoyed the daily updates from Dr Ashley Bloomfield, his webcam had shat itself and Mighty Ape wasn’t supplying him with his needs. He could see his friends pointing and laughing at him online at his misfortune and could only retort by distort-level shouting at them through his headset, and angrily sculling another can of V.

It was late now and the family, stuffed with Ella’s dessert—a concoction of air and meths made from season four of Masterchef Australia—sat back to watch Mamma Mia, at Mum’s request.

Tarquin excused himself from what looked on the face of it a really unattractive scenario and headed back to Fortnite. He knew it was always his father’s dream that his son would be online 14 hours a day, shooting at his classmates in a banana costume.

Another day over, the family settled in for a long night online, with a few hours’ sleep chucked in for balance.

All was well in Tarquin’s world.

Countdown to Chaos

I was in Countdown today, and noticed the entire toilet paper section had been wiped clean, just like a computer hard drive. All that remained was the shelving and a few redundant price tags.

Couples rounded the aisle entrance, hopeful to get their hands on their Purex triple-ply. One couple stopped in their tracks and stood, mouths agape. It was a good two minutes (or weeks) before they could form normal sentences.

“but the toilet paper, Deryck.”

As Deryck moved closer to the shelves, I fancied that he was willing it to be some kind of misunderstanding, that maybe one of the shelf-stackers was going to emerge from the vinyl flaps of the storeroom sometime soon with the pallet of toilet paper and this ready-made nightmare would be over, but it wasn’t to be.

They wandered off in a haze, perhaps to the baby supplies aisle to stock up on wipes, or had they gone to Personal Items to get tissues?

I imagined Deryck sitting there, later on that night in the semi-darkness of the Smallest Room, clutching the box of tissues in one hand and grabbing at them wildly with the other, and each time underestimating how many handfuls each wipe-action actually needed. There was never any of this with the three-ply.

It got him thinking, something he usually tried to avoid. Life was pretty good before that Coronavirus hit New Zealand. You could go out unrestricted.

If you wanted, for example, one-ply, you could get one-ply. Your choice. Maybe an uninformed one, but up to you.

Dark thoughts began to fester as he wondered about the Big Questions. What was going on? Who was behind this? Those Chinese? The Labour government? Or a nefarious combination of the two?

As he clutched his last handful of peppermint infused tissues (Maureen had panicked and bought 18 boxes, not realising) his equilibrium felt completely out of whack for the first time since carless days, and for the first time in his life, he understood what it felt like to truly look into the abyss.

Having left a pretty intense message on his Facebook,

It’s all a conspiracy, they created the virus over in China so they could get the monopoly on the toilet paper. Shane Jones and the Greens are in on it…

Deryck put the jug on and started to worry obsessively about a teabag shortage, a TV Guide shortage, and the unthinkable: a Vogel’s bread shortage.

Out in the garage, he stroked the roof of his Jaguar S-type (actually a Ford Mondeo rebadged, but don’t talk openly to him about the latter, because it sets off his diverticulitis), and wondered how the world had gone so crazy in such a short period of time.

There was nothing to do but hunker down and wait. Maureen would sort it. Tomorrow was a new day.

He looked into the rear view mirror of the Jag at his own reflection, and hoped for a better future.

The Rubbish Collection

Ordinary rubbish day for most New Zealanders is the pinnacle of the working week. 

Everywhere, on every street, there are clacky flip-flops, teamed with pressed work slacks, striding the cold bitumen driveways to get the bins out on time.  There is side-eye and derision over who should do it. Mum? Or Dad? Or Tarquin? It’s a great way of getting him out of bed in the mornings and is really character-building.

Mum insists on putting them out on the day, with the theory that it prevents others from filling the bins with their own waste, in the secrecy of the night. Dad performs a serious eye-roll, one not seen since the time Mum tried to set up the MySky to record every episode of Dancing with the Stars, but only ended up recording Dances With Wolves.

Some people on my street desperately wheel their bins to the other side, because they forgot it was rubbish day and hastily make a quick mercy dash from work in their lunch hour to deal to the bins. And woe betide if the over-the-road neighbours are home; it’s a bit of a shitshow but what choice is left?

Others remain unsure whether the truck has come yet, and meaningfully wander to the nearest bin and expose its innards to check whether it’s just their bin that hasn’t been emptied, or is it the whole street?

Some wait and watch as the trucks come and swoop down and claw the helpless receptacles aloft, dumping the week’s worth of refuse into the abyss of rate-payer machinery.  They then whip the bins inside the gate, because you never know, someone may grab the wrong bin and then it’s an awkward late-night reconnoitre to retrieve the lost property.

Then there’s the yearly rubbish collection of inorganic things that we collected free from the last curbside dumping and no longer require.

The inorganic brings out the strangest things, and people are on it all like flies, grazing on the trash, picking through for copper, wire, electrics, anything that could be resold; and toys, carpets, linen baskets.

Large vans ride, snug along the road gutter, doors opening and grasping the not-working lamps and the mould-spotted occasional chair.

And then the council men come with their trucks and the homeowners stand in their driveways, hands on hips, watching the cracked plastic half-shell paddling pool, the baby car seat, the rusted clothes airer and the cheap white bookcases launch into the truck-jaws.

The thing we wanted rid of for the last two years but couldn’t be fucked paying for a trailer is now safely destined for a landfill and how pleased we are at ourselves for finally hauling arse to get it the two metres out onto the berm.

It always rains on inorganic weekend.  The sodden carpets loaded up; the trucks fly off to the next street over, and the residents slowly return to their houses, to surf Trade Me for more unbelievable crap to put out in next year’s collection.

 

Prius Man

Jealous of the 2020 model, Prius Man says “Don’t get one of those, apparently they’ve had to recall a few because there’s no space in the centre console for your Fitbit.”

Today I pulled into a service station to get my petrol, in a tidy and timely manner.

I always like to pull up to the side of the pumps adjacent to my filler. The times I have tried to stretch the pump over the top of the car, then somehow twist the handle sideways so it will only just reach the hole, and only the end of the nozzle will go in ⁠— no thanks. Life is awkward enough as it is.

Today, I waited for the person in front of me to finish up pumping his gas and then proceed to the payment area, and leave to get on with his life.

Sadly, he did not. Instead, he looked around at me, sitting there patiently, and walked to the front of his car and put the bonnet up.

I should have known.

He was driving a Prius, and was wearing a pair of knit material shorts, a t-shirt, trainers and the expression of entitlement.

Perhaps he’d “knocked off” for the weekend; it was 2.30 on a Friday after all. He’d probably finished up for the day with a few terse emails to his PA, putting his out-of-office reply on; “on my return to the office on Monday I will be deleting any new emails, if it’s really important, email me Monday”, and tearing a couple of employees a new one.

I watched him intently as he fussed around under the bonnet, then moved around to the hatch of the car, lifting the wheel-well cover, reaching in to get some sort of anally-retentive screwdriver set.

Who knew what he was doing, perhaps he was going to do some kind of super-charger conversion, all the while a line of cars snaked out of the station and onto the footpath.

Soon, he was back under the bonnet again, tinkering around. The gas had long finished and the pump sat flaccidly in the tank.

Presently, he emerged again and it looked promising that he might actually leave, but instead he strode purposefully into the shop, all the while looking around at the growing queue and smugly thinking that we all could just damn well wait, who were we anyway, with our relatively simple needs and goals.

Back he came with a litre of engine oil ⁠— he’d probably paid twice what he should have ⁠— but this did not once faze him in his determination to waste the lives of at least four other humans, who had now sunk into the pit of despair and turned their engines off.

What became of Prius Man? I’m sad that I’ll never know because I duly reversed as soon as a free pump came up and gapped it the fuck out of there.

I filled my tank, which took a matter of a couple of minutes and I was pleasant to the staff member at the counter: “Thank you, no, I don’t wish to buy three Moro bars or swipe my Mobil Surprises (or whatever) loyalty card.”

As I left the shop, Prius Man was red-faced and huffy, wrestling with life and the cards he’d been dealt; a steady high-paid job for life, an economy company car, and overall access to virtually any space on the planet without question, and got into my car and drove away.

I imagine he’ll be home now, watching his power meter monitor installed on his laptop and fiddling around with some new speakers for the Smart TV.

Go well Prius Man, I certainly hope that bonnet hinge didn’t malfunction and crash down on your head at any stage.

Home Improvement, Boomer Styles

I was doing a bit of a tidy up today and I came across some pictures of one of the houses in which we grew up.

This was the second house mum and dad owned. It was the one before “the dream home”. It was also 1975.

The concrete path was really something

It was your basic “L” shape, north-facing, with a reasonable backyard, incredibly rowdy neighbours on one side, and a family from Liverpool on the other, owners of a horse called Mandy.

Out the front was a bit of section that was crying out for planted perennials, perhaps a few silver birch trees and lots and lots of phormium tenax surrounded by bark.

The first thing my parents always did when they got a new house was dig a vegetable garden and plant unfeasible amounts of things we hated like silverbeet, lettuce and courgettes. Subsequently, dad would begin his vanity project, a brick, chimneyed, barbeque. It was like the family temple. The cement would be mixed up on the garage floor, much to mum’s horror.

Once the exterior had been planted by what looked like every type of flora available to humanity, dad would turn his attention to the interior.

For a guy who worked as a shearer for many years before he entered the police, dad seemed to also fancy himself as some kind of interior “redesigner”.

Bearing in mind that in those days, you could (on a Sunday night) down a few flagons of DB Brown and suddenly be struck with inspiration after watching Stars On Sunday to begin a full kitchen fit-out.

I remember getting up in the night once and dad was in the bathroom grouting and tiling around the bathtub.

Another time he fancied that we needed an arch to connect the dining room and lounge. Previously, there had been a pair of iconic sliding doors which could easily have been “left open” to provide that sense of flow.

The finished product was basically triumphal, and dad walked through, emperor-styles, hold a frosty tankard of beer, proudly examining every inch of his asbestos craftsmanship.

But the pièce de résistance was yet to come. The hallway seemed so boring, with its straight lines and front door, and rooms off the side such as the “toilet” and “bathroom”.

It wasn’t long before one hall wall was tiled. With large mirror tiles, the likes of which are seen in discotheques and actual bathrooms.

With a maidenhair fern potted in a brass urn, atop a slate pedestal in front, the whole thing become quite trippy and I wondered: what was coming next?

What came next was a major surprise.

There we kids were, sitting at the dining table one night, eating casserole, and in came dad, fresh from work.

That night was a game changer. Dad went over to the Bell ™ system record player, turned it on, and gently placed the record under the stylus. We were disappointed to hear yet another classical album being forced on us. We munched on our parsnips quietly until…

Yes, it turned out dad had ‘totally pranked’ us by in fact buying the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever and playing Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven, which not only sampled Beethoven’s Fifth but was also an hilarious pun about liquor.

You couldn’t really get more seventies than that and we were soon playing pretend drums on our Belle Fiore dinner plates with our bone-handled knives and forks, in unison.

Over the fence, Mandy the horse neighed happily and our party neighbours spun another round of Joe Dolce’s Shaddup You Face.

Dad would duly phone noise control later, but it was all good; it was 1981 now and time to buy “the dream home” which is where the interior designs hit some kind of new high, or low.

The School Holidays

The school holidays are coming to a close, and parents everywhere are already drunk with excitement at the thought of little Tarquin and Bella returning to school, after school care, and out of sight quite frankly.

The holidays always start out well-intentioned.

I myself always have a long list of things we’re going to do, everything from learning to surf, right down to abseiling the Sky Tower with my three kids strapped to my back, while learning to make sushi.

But the reality is, that you tend to run out of spare money on the second day (Sunday) and so you just grant the kids an extra nine hours’ screen time…

that’s great Big T, I love that you’re on Mathletics like this, good choices, boy

What an absolute joke; you know full well he’s spent the last five hours watching a group of 15 year olds swallow chicken eggs whole, shell and all, then go to the ED to get X-rayed to see if the whole egg is still intact. It’s the whole reason you became a parent.

By the Friday of the first week, you’ve done precisely nothing of significance with them. You scroll through the endless Facebook posts of families who are hiking in South America somewhere, cooking flax over a gas stove so that the kids can weave school satchels for local school kids, and you look around your own house which is strewn with bedraggled children who had an ice block for breakfast and now have literal rectangular eyes.

You make a mental note to ring up the bank on Monday to download off the mortgage to get plastic surgery on the eyes before school starts again, but then you forget because suddenly there’s three different public holidays embedded within the school holidays and you need to quickly buy eight metric tonnes of chocolate and also book dental surgery instead of eye surgery.

Suddenly it’s the end of the second week, and the hellscape of your home includes new Lego that you couldn’t really afford and two-week-old lunches still sitting in school bags that you won’t know about until Sunday night.

Inside the boxes is detritus that can no longer be identified, but you know in your heart that as the lunch was made on the last Friday of term, it’ll be pretty well-preserved: Twisties, the empty suckie foil and half a muffin, so full of sugar, that it will still be around in a landfill until 2079.

All up it’s been a success in that you didn’t end up in triage or blow out the broadband. Or maybe you did but what’s another $500 on the Spark bill?

Monday of term two rolls around and after you’ve had to quickly sew a makeshift uniform for one child since the original is lost forever, you silently, smugly pull up to the curb outside school, your petrol gauge on empty, and one by one they alight.

We’ll miss you so much, mum

Then smugly, knowing you’ve gotten away with the most disorganised bit of chaos ever, you stop by the coffee place and neck precisely five double-shot flat whites, then head home with a mini-digger on the top of your people mover to help clean the lounge.

Hi, my name is Tarquin. I don’t watch Game of Thrones.

Scene:  A typical white middle class drink-up.  It’s late.  People are barefoot and sitting on the floor.

Jonathan:  (pouring a large bowl of Pinot Noir)

So, is everyone ready for Game of Thrones?

Helen:

Oh yes. It’s amazing.

And people break off into small private conversations about other shows they are currently watching featuring home bakes, gun battles and guys with wires. These folk live in Meadowbank, Auckland. They drive a large Skoda to work and attend the Catholic Church just next to Countdown.

But there is one, just one human here who is different.  He is quiet. He is measured. His drink of choice is a Tiger beer straight from the bottle. He’s been listening, silently necking 25 standard drinks in the face of this gathering. Out of nowhere, he says:

I’ve never watched it.

You could slice through the indignation with one of the swords of Visenya Targaryen or whoever.

Jonathan rises, calmly resting his booze on the occasional table, made from blonde wood ethically sourced from Freedom.

What did you say, Tarquin?

Tarquin shrugs.

I dunno, I watched one episode and small kids were being murdered and there was rape in bulk format.

Jonathan is incensed.

He pulls out a small handgun and slowly orientates it sideways.  The people in the room are beautifully turned to tilt shift miniatures.  The glow of the room is stunning as Jonathan’s sweaty trigger finger becomes the focus.  Ex-members of Linkin Park are brought in to create an overproduced soundtrack—like listening to music while having your eardrums dewaxed.

The kind of occasional table you might find in this situation.

The kind of occasional table you might find in this situation.

Tarquin squints his eyes, tears seeping like broken guttering.  He shakes his head.

You won’t Jonathan.  You can’t.  You’re just like me.  All of you.  Just like me!

Helen, still in miniature tilt shot form, is seen stirring in the background.  Suddenly she looms at Jonathan and knocks the cocked piece from his hand.  It slides over the floor, ricocheting off the Ottoman and into the feature wall, discharging its magazine into the Smeg brushed aluminium dishwasher. One bullet lodges itself into the bottom independent dish drawer. The other, in slow motion, redirects to Tarquin’s thigh. He screams like some kind of wounded extra from The Wire.

Oh well.  That’s the price you pay. It’s only $10 a month.

says Jonathan in a cruel voice, one he would normally use when turning a client down for finance.

He sits down in his special large leather chair, the one no-one, not even the kids are allowed to sit in. He fingers his vast glass receptacle of red wine, and watches Tarquin squeal and cry on the Cavalier Bremworth “Cromwell Autumn” carpet.

The room is back in normal focus. The guests return to sit in small groups. Nora Jones is now the background music. Jonathan places his index finger on the Sky menu button and selects SoHo>Game of Thrones>Series Link.

The room is silent, except for the screams of little Tarquin.

20100326_ciarinhinds-silo_250x375

Ciaran waiting for his MySky to warm up.

The Mobile Drape Ladies

Today on my errands, I happened upon a pair of mobile drape ladies, one of the most terrifying archetypes in human existence.

Mobile drape ladies are a pair of ladies that travel in a Spotlight-branded van. They park up outside a house during daylight hours and their mission is to measure your window fixtures and frames, then go away and sew the custom-made drapes.

On the surface, it’s pretty innocuous. What could go wrong?

They enter your house. They are no-nonsense women who survived the ’50s ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and most importantly, now. They are called Margaret and Sheryl. Margaret has a plume of coloured bright red spiky hair which she gets set once a week by her daughter, Sandra.

Sandra has three or four small dogs or guinea pigs, or perhaps they are actually cats.

Meanwhile, back on the mean streets, Marg and Sheryl are whipping out the tape measures and tut-tutting at the net curtains.

Who hung these? They’re bloody terrible Marg.

Incensed, she rips down the set and swishes it into a ball, all the while making a series of huffing sounds.

Soon, they break into easy banter. Marg is doing a fish pie for tea tonight, and Sheryl is going to watch Married At First Sight Australia. Husband Don is off at the Dennis Marsh gig.

Sheryl’s son is getting remarried. Sheryl tells Marg she doesn’t trust his new bride.

She’s older than him by two years. Has three children. From a previous de facto. They weren’t married. Those poor children. (more audible huffing and general resentment.)

They’re almost done. The windows will require a robust, lined drape made with the kind of precision only seen elsewhere in either brain surgery or microblading.

The ladies board the drape-bus and give it a good rev, before heading back to drape-base.

Sure, enough, within possibly a nano-second, the drapes are ready and dispatched. One time Marg made up a pair blindfolded, to the delight of her colleagues.

If you ever want to truly terrify a mortal enemy, dispatch a pair of mobile drape ladies immediately.

New Year’s

In New Zealand, in 1987, New Year’s Eve began at midday on the 30th December.

This was signaled by whoever had backed the keg in the station wagon into the driveway.

Once the keg had been tapped, it was a bit like the opening ceremony of the Olympics, where they light the cauldron.

Faces of anticipation turned to fully-blown wonderment as Lion Red beer frothed from the sides of the pump connection and dripped lovingly down the metallic vessel of mysteries.

Soon after, the boy-folk—all of 18 years old—would stand around, shirtless, holding two or three plastic jugs each, fresh from a swim in the over-chlorinated pool while the parents were at work until 4pm knock-off. And woe betide when the parents arrived at their own family home, which by that stage smelled like the Gluepot carpet after a Dragon gig.

Since there was so much Lion Red contained within the keg, beer could be liberally spilled and by 2pm some of the boys were in the pool again, with two jugs apiece, a lit Winfield smoke, and the music of an alternative rock outfit to “rage” to.  A ball might even make it into the pool to convert the scene to sport.

After, dripping and replete, a convergence of wet dude-bodies would again worship the keg; the girls stretched out on loungers, talking, smoking Pall Mall menthols, drunk, and happy.

Someone would get the munchies, but the chicks had that covered.  A girlfriend (from a different school) would have brought many salads and meats and would begin to unmount the rear of her 1980 Honda Civic hatchback—potato salad, rolls, potatoes wrapped in tin foil for the barbecue, marinating chops—and the man-tribe would stare at her in wonder, wishing they actually had a girlfriend.

The barbecue was lit with a match and a bit of turps, there was turps and meat and matches and bodies everywhere.

And nothing excited the crowd more than the sound of the barbeque being lit,

whooooompha

which made even the 60-something-year-old neighbours—in the middle of watching Emmerdale—pop a stern head over the fence, thinking some kind of teen mischief was going to affect their QV rating.

With the chops cooked, the boys ate with bare hands then slept, while the girls carried on drinking and dancing, swapping the guitar-based rock for Mel and Kim’s Respectable, until the influx of bogan-chick gatecrashers (from yet another school, the school where you could wear mufti) got the shits with the music choices and tried to put on Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen in another room.

Someone had drunk too much and spewed on the new duvet cover from D.E.K.A, and the hostess cried. Then the crying evolved into childhood regression:

I never knew my father!

Bogan chick and non-bogan chick alike would gather and soothe and someone would helpfully set up a bong.

Soon everyone was hugging and dancing again indiscriminately to Boy George, and magically they knew all the words to that song

If I looked into your eyes would you say

The boy of our dreams would finally come over, look in our eyes and dance with us, and we’d get together on the patio-cum-spa-pool floor, and stay together for at least two years, until he decided to join the police training school in Porirua.

And that was New Year’s Eve 1987, and if we’d kept going, we’d be in Capri ,not the island, the rehab centre.

But, of course, we’re not.

We’ve got the New Year’s resolutions of adulthood to thank for that.

Do You Ever Feel Like A Plastic Bag?

A person with colour-coded bags is a person who will never forget their bags

Never before have I felt more like a plastic bag.

I feel I want a plastic bag every time I enter the supermarket now, and see the signs everywhere, screaming

REMEMBER YOUR BAGS

I imagine it’s being said in a chipper yet patronising voice.

By the time you’ve spotted the sign, you’re already halfway through the turnstiles and there’s a queue of people behind you. Other times, you’ve managed to turn around and fight the unnatural spikes out of the way, and traipse what seems like 1500 metres back to the car to get the bags.

You know there’s bags you can buy here, though, as you absent-mindlessly grab a basket, even though (given you’ve forgotten the bags) you’re a no-list graze-shopper who at some point will have to go back through the turnstile and get a trolley.

And off you go into a wonderland of plastic-covered everything, and you wonder at what point in civilisation did everything become about…plastic?  We’re doomed with it and without it and you are absolutely doomed if you turn up to Pak’nSave on a day where they’ve run out of saleable plastic bags.

I was there yesterday. A young couple, wide-eyed with innocence and the anticipation of being able to bag-up their 2000 metric tonnes of groceries, were met with the concrete wall of

“We’re out of bags.”

They stood there, bereft, silent. There was nothing to say. It was like death. There was nothing to negotiate, try as you might.

“But the groceries.”

said one of them. The cashier just stared, we all stared at the empty hooks where the bags should be. Certainly there were boxes, but at a time like this, boxes may as well be your own hands.

The devastation and enormity of the situation was so great, I thought of offering up my small alms of four plastic bags, recently purchased at Countdown because I’d forgotten them that day, but not today I hadn’t.

The Countdown plastic bags were so notoriously good, one day I overheard a lady ask for lots of them because they made amazing bin liners.

But back to our couple.

Off they went, slowly past the checkout area towards the sliding doors, to what fate we’ll never truly know. An archway of flames awaited them in the car park and they walked into the incendiary tunnel.

Locusts swarmed overhead as storm clouds gathered just above the bit where you can get the cheap fuel.

I imagined them picking up one or two items and putting them in the boot without bags, then having to get some bags from the house at the other end and bag up the groceries but in their own driveway like some sort of reverse weird torture ritual.

Every time I have a human interaction from now on, I’m going to say “Remember Your Bags”.

“Hi mum, I need a shower.”

 “Remember your bags.”

 “Hi, it’s Jason from Fisher Funds here. Have you                                 thought about changing your KiwiSaver plan?”

“I haven’t got time because I need to remember my bags.”

“What’s for dinner?”

 “Bags.”







Ask

A typical confused Internet Warrior offsetting negative ions with a peace lily

 

Sadly, this is not about that great The Smiths song, it’s about something we don’t talk about enough in society: Computer Illiteracy in the Third Age.

More than ever, the elderly (people over the age of 48) are turning to their computer machines to use applications such as the ASK toolbar, Yahoo as a search engine, and to unwittingly download the full version of AVG because it offers full protection from hackers, who are young men who wear hoodies and gloves while hacking in the dark while no-one else is looking.

Hackers always dress this way, it’s very common and even though they are alone in a room probably, wear masks and hoodies and also drink V

Print this out and give it to someone you love, someone who is wrestling with the Internet. I’ll increase the font to the largest that this here WordPress will allow.

1. Check you aren’t just writing a private message to a family member in your own status bar

2. Stop installing the ASK toolbar. Once you have it, you can never get rid of it. Well, you can but I’ll have to do it next time I’m over

3. You can take a screenshot of your screen without using your phone

4. You do not need to switch the entire computer off every time you have finished using it

5. When Microsoft ring to talk about the breach of security on your computer, remember you have an “iPad” which is from a different company. It’s ok to not have a long conversation with someone who is scamming you. They won’t think you are not being polite. The Bridge group will not find out

6. Yahoo is now sponsored by Rich Dad. I know you like this idea but everything you type into the search area will lead you to Rich Dad

7. You can watch a YouTube clip of Nigel Kennedy for free, with the notes he’s playing at the bottom of the screen while you have a New World Graham Norton sav

8. I see you have put some favourites on your toolbar. I did not know you knew how to do that. I see you have Quotable Value, your local council and EzyBuy there.