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.

Vessel

The day it ended, my daughter’s hair started to untangle, slow spikes and tendrils unfurling

The weeds in the front garden shot skyward and bloomed, yellow, blue and forest green

The neighbour’s BMW (Compact) broke down; he stood head in hands crying

The lost Christmas tree was found under boxes from the basement flood two years ago, intact

The weather turned from no season to bright summer; the first baller cicada screamed out for a mate

I believed I was broken since seven in exactly two halves

And now knew it was so.

When Bad Art is good

A while back, I bought a painting off Trade Me, and it’s kind of changed me.

I fought hard to get it, with a final bid of $89.69 bringing it home and a pick-up at Bethell’s Beach. Nobody could tell me shit that day, there was no news, 2020 was incredible. I was the king of balls, cruising back home with the piece on the back seat of my people mover.

Even the listing on Trade Me was a joy; the seller had leaned the painting up against the dryer in the garage unaware there was a lone jandal nearby. It was going to be perfect.

Before I departed, the seller ripped a page out of her 2020 diary, the bit at the front with the year planner on it. It had a few rough notes about the movie, and as far as the seller was concerned, the artist was “Fergus Story” and she knew very little else about it. “We bought it for mum, she absolutely loved it.”

It was the start of something new and fun: collecting bad art.

The collection is based on reaction; when I see something I have a reaction to it. It’s combination of a full-body cringe and horror, combined with joy, delight and wonder at what was tugging at the artist’s wretched soul.

Women in Love by Nancy Fergus Story

Bad art is excruciating like a bad movie. You can’t look away, and in many ways you don’t even want to. You don’t own bad art, it owns you.

The painting is a scene from WOMEN IN LOVE, the 1969 adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, directed by Ken Russell and starring Oliver Reed. I mean. That description alone is bad art.

During the movie, Reed and Alan Bates wrestle naked in a somewhat stately room in front of a roaring fire.

Wrasslin’

Anyway the important thing here is that an artist took it on themselves to paint the scene. It’s also really important to leave art like this lying around, for example, near the front door so the couriers get to experience it too, as nature intended.

This painting. It makes my heart sing. That’s what bad art does. Half the time good art is mere interior decorating. And people can’t relax around it, because they’re overly worried about having to explain and justify its potential meaning to friends and they worry it’s not insured for enough.

That’s no way to live.

Once I started to bring home bad art, things changed in our living room. There’s bad art leaning up against walls, some of it I’ve hung, some of it is in the hallway near the kids’ bedrooms.

Swords over the mantle, you say

One day this art collection will be in Te Papa, I’m sure of it. Some of the pieces are rare and collectible. Priceless you might say.

He follows you around the room

Join me, hit the subscribe button (not sure if there is one, but maybe at the most bookmark this site) as I take you on a journey of Bad Art in a new compelling blog series.

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.

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.

Love, Ashley

Back in the good old days of what was known as Level 0 life, people used to develop unhealthy obsessions with men like Morten Harkett or Harry Styles and just be done with it. And you could kind of understand what they might have seen in those examples.

Today, we live in a situation known as Level 4. None of us can truly remember what the previous levels were like now. All we know is that little Tarquin is now surgically attached to Fortnite, and mums everywhere have made more sourdough loaves than the Ploughman company, and have a complicated romantic entanglement with Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He’s on our screens each day at 1pm, freestyling numbers and clusters; we all know exactly what “the Bluff wedding” means, and for the first time in history some of us have learned that there’s an animal called a “Hereford” and there’s an annual Hereford conference.

All that aside, Ashley Bloomfield is the star of the show. As soon as his first word is spoken, the nation gets on Twitter to simultaneously announce:

It’s the Ashley show

Some of the Tweets have heart-emoji eyes, I wondered as if to say, “how lucky we are as a nation to have such a capable human being at the helm of this pandemic”, but I was completely wrong.

As we peer into the lounges of New Zealand, Ashley has unwittingly become some sort of sexual icon, and it’s difficult to reconcile our Director-General of Health with this newly-anointed status.

Bloomfield, sexually responding to press-gallery questions, in a highly sexual manner. (Hagen Hopkins)

My theory is that boredom has set in, and Ashley is all that’s on the tele. Remember when you went to Christian Youth Camp in 1983 and all the girls had a crush on Justin McLelland who went to Hamilton Boys’? Justin wouldn’t have had a hope in Hades being so popular if he wasn’t the 1st XV captain. But because you were essentially trapped for the first week of the school holidays, you had to have something to do, and the only thing left was to have a crush on Justin McLelland, which in the aftermath of camp, you would question.

Dr Bloomfield is a GC. He’s guided the nation through some pretty scary times with his measured approach, and his ability to answer the same question worded 18 different ways, every day, for eternity.

But come on, he’s not a pin-up. Please, no more Ashley nude sketches. Please, no more Ashley-shaped loaves of Sourdough. Please, no more poetry.

If some of the conditions of Level 3 could be that it’s now illegal to sexualise the top brass of the Ministry of Health, that would be great.

Countdown to Chaos Part II

I needed to go to the supermarket.

I got my bags (sanitized in the washing machine) my keys, washed my hands and said goodbye to my family.

Once there, I waited in a queue that snaked out the rear door of the mall. Two metres apart, we waited on our phones, texting our friends and loved ones about how long the queue was, in disbelief, with the odd picture posted to social media with a surprised-look emoji.

Then we grew bored of our phones and put them away and instead looked at the closed stores. Some were up for sale. Others had handwritten messages, hastily scrawled on the Tuesday: “we’re working from home!” some of them said, hopefully.

Another shop had up a Churchill quote, probably hurriedly taken from BrainyQuote:

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.”

As a travel agency, I wondered how successful they’d be in this endeavour.

The line moved slowly but surely. They’d deployed Robert, the trolley guy, to be the guy who told people where the line began. One by one, as the people entered the mall, they’d stop and discuss in their bubble, whether it was worth the wait just to get razors and Molenberg.

Some of them gave up almost immediately. The elderly couples, we put at the front of the queue. They definitely could not be flexible in the same way, and just come back another time for their marmalade.

Once through the Barrier of Destiny, it was amazing. With only a handful of people in-store, it was yours. It was calm, like church. I began to worship at the shrine of hot cooked chicken.

Brights light shone on the fruit and vege, you could get whatever you wanted within your budgetary wherewithal.

Robert’s voice barked in the background and the music of Keane played on, as usual, over the sound system.

I picked my produce, careful not to touch any surfaces.

I had to stop and remember: what was it that people wanted again? Superglue, reading glasses and drain cleaner, and those tablets you put in your cistern to make the flush bright blue.

Then it was off to the checkout to line up behind the bright red line and wait. There were no queues as such. It’s just that unlike the old days, people were being forced to be patient, kind and understanding, as much as they hated to.

It was my turn. I felt like that woman who had won a prize.

I felt like a woman who had lost control of everything. As my bottles of non-essential ginger ale rolled to the very end of the conveyor, I tried to multitask by swiping my high-contact Onecard at the same time as packing my own stuff, trying not to stand too close to the cashier and retrieving the rogue ginger fizz.

When did it all become so crazy? Another shopper in the adjacent aisle struggled to keep up with packing her own groceries. As each item slid down the gangway, she panic-packed and regretted her prior thoughts about not raising the minimum wage.

Soon it was over. After redeeming my Onecard voucher, which I had earned in around five days of shopping last week, we were set free. Just one more barrier to get through, at a safe distance, and it was over.

I walked out into the autumn sunshine, my trolley rattling and gleaming in the light.

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.

 

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

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.

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 and none of them care. 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 49-year-old me was there for 14-year-old me.

____

This blog post is dedicated to Paula.







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.