Saturday, 4 August 2012

A coffin, a beetle and a non-existent picture

I've had a picture in my mind for almost 40 years - a picture that I would love to transfer to paper. The picture would save many words and be many times more effective than any written or spoken description. Alas, the ability to illustrate is a gift with which I am not blessed, and the subject of the said picture is so absurd that even the seemingly infinite resources of Google Images would not help. Yet the story the picture would tell is a true story which could have been recorded for all time if there had been an insightful photographer at hand. It wasn't to be, so my attempt at a word picture will have to suffice.

Mrs Bricky and I were to travel by air with a group of friends to a convention in a distant city, at which we were to perform a humorous sketch. Our sketch required an unusual prop: an authentic coffin. A cardboard imitation wouldn't do, as it needed to be sufficiently strong to carry a (live) body. We needed to acquire it from a source in or near our destination city, as we sensed our air carrier would be less than enthusiastic about carrying it as accompanied baggage. A sufficiently friendly funeral director might have lent us one from his shelf stock, but we didn't know one. But wait a moment - what about good old Dad? My father, who lived in a country town within a two hour drive of our convention venue, and whose DIY skills have been documented in a previous post , was a skilled woodworker who had recently retired and thus had time on his hands. A phone call determined that he was willing to make a coffin for the cost of the materials and deliver it to a nominated city address. And so it was settled. We thought no more about it until the convention weekend arrived and we travelled to our destination. Sure enough, there was a beautifully crafted burial casket awaiting us at the agreed address.

The picture that has been lurking in my mind for almost four decades is not just one of a coffin. You see, I had (reasonably, I thought) expected that my father would transport the coffin from his country hometown to the city on a truck, or possibly on a car trailer. I suppose I also thought he would discreetly cover it with a tarpaulin. But no, there wasn't a tarpaulin. Neither was there a truck or a trailer. He had carried it, uncovered, on a roof-rack atop his car - a VW beetle.

Monday, 30 July 2012

DIY as it once was

To say my father was the ultimate DIYer is a bold statement, but he was a standout even in an era when neccessity dictated that almost everyone was a DIYer to some extent. And he wouldn't have had a clue what DIY meant - he just did it himself if there was any possible way he could. Buying was a last resort. There simply wasn't the money available in most instances so if he couldn't make it (or do it) himself, we as a family had to go without in most cases. But we did have the neccessities. We even moved into a brand new house when I was about 12 years old. My father had borrowed money to buy a low-lying, swampy residential block of land about 15 years previously.

He raised the level by laboriously carting in topsoil that he obtained from the side of a country road where a grader had done some widening work. He shovelled it onto his 1937 Chevrolet 2 ton flat-deck truck (similar to the one pictured), carted it home and shovelled it off - all 300 loads - in the weekends and on evenings after work. It took him years.

He then made hundreds of cement blocks from gravel and sand he shovelled and carted home out of a nearby riverbed. He designed and built the mold he made them in. He designed and built the house and fitted it out with joinery of his own making. The only tradesman he engaged was the electrician who did the wiring, because the law didn't allow him to do it himself. He even did his own plumbing and drainage, having convinced a registered plumber to inspect and sign off his work.

Building the house was only a part of his my father's DIY effort. He lived it every day of his life, feeding the family by buying live sheep from a farmer and butchering them himself to catching trout and salmon on homemade tackle and canning them. He was not a miserly man; he had simply learned to live and provide for his family on a shoestring because it was the only way he knew.

Yesterday my car needed a wash, so what did I do? I drove a 12km round trip to the petrol station, paid $14 for the privilege of waiting 35 minutes in a queue to have my car washed less perfectly than I could have done it myself at home for free. My dad just wouldn't have understood. I'm not sure that I do, either.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Story With Two Morals

Like everyone, I receive recycled emails every day from well meaning acquaintances who feel a need to brighten up my life. Truth is, most of them are so inane, farcical or otherwise uninteresting that my acquaintances evidently think I have a sad life indeed. This one tickled my fancy, though, probably because of moral number 2.

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold. The hedgehogs, realizing the situation, huddled together to keep warm. This way they covered and protected themselves, but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions. After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen. They had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or die - become extinct as a species even. Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the warmth that came from the others. This way they were able to survive.

Moral number one: The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people, but the relationship when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others and can admire the other person's good qualities.

Moral number two: Learn to live with the pricks in your life.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Proposed drug testing of beneficiaries

New Zealand's present government doesn't often come up with an idea to gladden my instinctively left-leaning heart, but the recent proposal to require recipients of the unemployment benefit to be drug-free is an exception. Effectively there are only four prerequisites to receiving this benefit, commonly called the dole. Two relate to citizenship and residency, one to age and the other requirement is that "you must be available for, and looking for full time work".

In this country, employers have a legal responsibility to maintain a safe workplace. A workplace cannot be safe when it employs people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, therefore it is usual and responsible practice for employers to require a clear drug test prior to hiring a new employee. It is reportedly common in some industries for job applicants to be rejected because of their failure to pass such a test. In fact, I have seen clear evidence of this in my own experience. Not many years ago I found myself out of work and applied for one of a number of unskilled positions at a meat processing plant. Along with seven other applicants I was promised employment, conditional upon my attending a half day orientation programme including a drug test. Of the eight, only two of us passed the drug test and were subsequently hired. The other six made no secret of their relief at not having to forgo their unemployment benefit. Work & Income NZ requires unemployment beneficiaries to provide evidence that they are actively seeking paid employment. Many of them evidently set out to fail these tests in order to avoid losing their benefit entitlement.

New Zealand has a number of benefits available to those who need help for one legitimate reason or another, including sickness benefit and domestic purposes benefit. I don't advocate drug testing for recipients of those or any other benefits, because the unemployment benefit is the only one that is conditional upon the recipient being "available for, and looking for full time work". I fail to see how genuine jobseekers would not abstain from taking illicit drugs when they are well aware of those drugs rendering them unavailable for paid employment.

Mr Key and Mr English, much as it pains me to say so, I support you on this one, but only insofar as it applies to the unemployment (jobseeker) benefit. Having said that, I don't trust you not to use it as the thin edge of the wedge in extending the testing to recipients of other benefits.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Signs of Illiteracy?

Signs in the Timaru Botanic Gardens, South Canterbury, New Zealand. OK, the signwriter stuffed up - twice - but wouldn't someone on the gardens staff have noticed and sent them back for correction? Apparently not, as I first spotted these errant signs three years ago and they're still in place.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Where does respect begin?

We often hear the cry "One of the problems with the world today is that kids have no respect for anyone". Like most attempts to apportion blame for perceived wrongs, that is a generalisation of massive proportion, but I do think there is some truth in the claim that many kids don't respect their elders as they did in years gone by. Undoubtedly the causes are many and varied. One of them is that so many adults, by their actions and words, don't deserve much respect, but that was always the case.

I was giving some thought to this today and came to the realisation that in the long gone days of my childhood and early adolescence, we addressed every adult by their family names, preceded by the honorifics Mr, Mrs or Miss. The only exceptions beyond the extended family were close family friends who in some cases were honorary aunts and uncles and were addressed as such.

I suspect today's seemingly universal practice of kids calling adults by their given names has evolved from the desire of modern adults to be "with it" and accepted as a part of the kids' scene (hence, "Just call me John"). I'm wondering how significant the erosion of the older tradition has been in our perception that young folk no longer have respect for their elders. After all, how are they to differentiate between their peers and adults? Have we taught them to see no difference between their schoolyard friends and their elders?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

When cowboys were our celebrities

I'm taking my six-year-old grandson to a disco at his school this evening - a disco at which the kids are to attend dressed as famous persons. He's going as Michael Jackson, resplendent in red jacket, black hat and white glove. I got to wondering what famous person I might have represented myself as when I was six. That is, if I was going to a fancy dress disco, which I wouldn't have been because I wouldn't have known what a disco was. Neither would anyone else have known because discos hadn't been thought of back then. The only celebrities I can recall in those pre TV days were cowboys, such as Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and the like, who we saw on the silver screen and in comic books. Indians weren't celebrities because they were a generic bunch without individual identities. Robin Hood or William Tell might have been candidates, as might Donald Duck, but they were all fictitious characters rather than famous people. There were famous sportspeople of course, but without TV we didn't know what they looked like. The Royal Family were popular but today they probably trail behind Justin Bieber in the eyes of kids. How times have changed!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Saturday is bath night - regardless!

Bruce Taylor, aka "Catalyst" at Oddball Observations , had a nice lead-in to a story about birds . It took me back 50 years to the days when hot water was so precious we bathed only once a week. Truth be known, with the high cost of electricity these days, hot water should be more precious now than it was then. More correctly, I think the once a week baths were a hangover from the days when bathing required boiling the wood-fired copper and was a much more major operation than simply turning on the hot tap.

In fact I have a vague recollection of our family depending on the copper for hot baths but much stronger memories of  the copper being fired up to boil the bed linen in times prior to the exciting day our first washing machine arrived. Saturday night was our bath night too, and Bruce may well be right in surmising that was because of Sunday being church day. I seem to recall that Saturday was bath night for most people.

We had a neighbour in our small town who had the unenviable job of driving a horse-drawn open dray from door to door overnight on one night per week, to collect the nightsoil (a.k.a. poos and wees) from each household. His task was to remove the open can from the out-house of every household, tip the contents into the dray and return the can to be re-filled during the ensuing week. One assumes he didn't exactly smell of roses by the time he returned home at the end of his night's work. Anyway, it was well known that our neighbour didn't have electrically heated hot water and could only take a hot bath after boiling the "copper". Nightsoil collection was Wednesday night. Smoke emerged from our neighbour's washhouse only on Saturday nights.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Nature the Best Architect

Nature is the best architect and I don't rate at all. I planted this climbing rose ('Lady Barbara') and the Virginia Creeper in early Spring with the purpose in mind to hide an ugly fence. No thought given to the colour combination, but with the onset of Autumn, nature has provided  a nice blend.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Of Roosters and Feather Dusters

In Reality, Size Matters.

What is it about trees and whales that stir the emotions of so many folk? When people tie themselves to trees in order to prevent their felling for so-called development, or spend days and nights on a beach keeping stranded whales wet until they can be returned to the sea, are they being noble or are they demonstrating their shallowness and bigotry? Let me explain.

Blue whales are the world's largest mammals and many of their whale cousins hold lofty positions on the mammalian size list. Whales, elephants and other macro-animals, when they are in danger, stir humans to all kinds of noble action in their defence. It's the same with trees. Let's all hope we don't return to the practices of earlier generations in some countries (including this one), of felling for short term gain, trees that took thousands of years to grow, but there is huge discrepancy between the perceived importance of treading on a small whorled pogonia and felling a New Zealand kauri tree.  No problem with anyone doing what they can to help and save these various large species, but what of the smaller plants and creatures, which through no fault of their own don't capture the imagination of large numbers of people. Take the peripatus worm, whose habitat is threatened by a motorway development. I'm not suggesting there is no human concern for the worm, in fact a great deal of trouble is being taken in attempting to ensure its future, but it doesn't cut it in the emotional stakes with whales or gorillas, does it?

So then, are whale-watchers and treehuggers shallow and bigoted when they fail to show equal concern for all species regardless of size, fame or cuddliness? Certainly they would be thought of that way if they applied the same rules to their fellow humans. But then, don't we all? Of the one-and-a-half million humans who die every day, how many are considered important enough to have their obituaries published?

An Old Dog Learns a New Trick

For most of my life I've enjoyed crossword puzzles. The ones they call "quick" crosswords (although that's something of an oxymoron in my case) with general knowledge clues and straight word definitions that can be looked up in an encyclopaedia or a dictionary as a last resort. Many times I've looked at the clues in crosswords of the cryptic variety and given up when most times I couldn't see the answer to a solitary clue.

Recently I started to question why I couldn't solve these puzzles. I've always loved words and those who know me well often roll their eyes at my silly little wordplay jokes. To Google I went, and sure enough, there was a plethora of advice available on how to solve cryptics. "Don't be discouraged," one website told me, "if you can solve up to five clues in your first few weeks you're doing well". One crossword a day is all I have time for, and The Otago Daily Times (you won't find the crossword, they need to sell papers!) supplied the raw material. On the fifth day, I completed the puzzle correctly! Sadly, this makes me neither genius or expert, but it does make me a cryptic nut. And old dogs can learn new tricks!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Why Knights today?

One of the more curious moves by New Zealand's National-led government has been the reintroduction of titular honours, announced by prime minister John Key very soon after taking office in 2008. The previous Labour government had replaced those honours carrying the titles "Sir" and "Dame" with uniquely New Zealand awards carrying no less recognition but without the titles. Knighthoods had long been abolished by most, if not all, British Commonwealth countries some years before, so a move back in time to a tradition all but forgotten pretty much everywhere except Great Britain seemed a very strange thing to do, especially as it hadn't been an election issue and indeed to my knowledge hadn't even been a part of National Party policy prior to that election. There wasn't a huge outcry when the announcement was made - after all, the Nats had just been elected in a landslide and the solid majority who voted them in were starry-eyed and hardly likely to remonstrate.

Three and a half years hence the twice yearly announcements that further small groups of people, some of whom have done nothing more than rise to positions of prominence in their respective professions, are to be addressed as "Sir Charles" or "Dame Constance" seem to have become accepted as a part of life in New Zealand. In each group so honoured, there seems to be at least one man, one woman and one person of Maori descent. I wonder why that is?

In the last three years there has been a great deal written and said about the widening gap between rich and poor in this country. Of course, there is no rule requiring knighthoods to be bestowed only upon the wealthy but it is reasonable to presume that posties on beats in Cannon's Creek and Otara won't be delivering many offers of such titles any time soon. Which brings me to the point of this ramble: rightly or wrongly, the public perceives knighthoods to be the preserve of the rich and famous, so why would the government do something completely unnecessary to feed the notion of the widening gap they claim doesn't exist?

Footnote: the wife of Sir Theodore Hucklebuck is entitled to call herself Lady Hucklebuck. What entitlement does the husband of Dame Felicity Marychurch have? And what will be the entitlement of the legal Civil Union partner of NZ's first openly gay knight or dame?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Day I Met a Moonwalker

Dave Brown, aka JC's Helper did an impressive bit of name-dropping today, thereby moving me to consider who might be the most famous person I have met and spoken with during my lifetime.

The setting was the ballroom of the Southern Cross Hotel, circa 1987 (since closed and demolished), Melbourne, Australia, This was prior to the deregulation of the Australian banks, when the big mutual life insurance societies were soon to be forced into demutualising and giving up their long held ability to spend policyholders' money like there was no tomorrow. And spend it they did. Lavish overseas "conferences" every year as incentives for salespeople to achieve quite moderate targets were commonplace, as were high value prizes as incentives for the same salespeople to sell more of what they were already being paid extremely generous commissions to sell. At the time, I was employed as a sales manager for the largest Australian "mutual" of them all. Every January, in an attempt to get their salesfolk's minds back on the business of selling after the Christmas break, they produced extravagant "back to work" conferences at the state level. It was a challenge each January to outdo the theme of the previous year's conference and the sales personnel typically rolled up in droves, eagerly anticipating the best show ever.

The lights dimmed and the hum of social chatter faded as the sound system produced an ominous roar and a cloud of vapour emanated downward from above the stage, clearing slowly to reveal a replica of the Apollo 11 landing module "Eagle" that Weta Workshop would have been proud of, being lowered gently onto the stage. The exit hatch opened, a ladder appeared, down which climbed a moon-suited man while the public address system played a recording of the actual moon landing in 1969: "One small step for man.....". The figure turned, walked awkwardly in moon-walk fashion toward the microphone as he removed his helmet and brought an audible collective gasp of astonishment from his audience when he said: "Hi, I'm Neil Armstrong" as the first words of his keynote address to the conference.

It was going to be a hard act to improve upon the following year, and so far as I can recall they never did. Yes, it was indeed the Neil Armstrong, who had been spirited into Australia by the organisers and would be spirited back to the United States the following day without the Aussie news media ever getting wind of his presence. Such was the power of the southern hemisphere's largest mutual life insurance office. At the "after match" cocktail function, I joined the long queue to glad-hand the world's most famous astronaut and request his autograph - "For my kids, you understand!"

Footnote: a group of my management colleagues from out-of-town centres, who were hotel guests overnight, were enjoying a few quiet drinks later that evening in the room of one of their number, when they had a hunch to phone reception and ask to be connected to "Mr Armstrong's room". The request was granted and the famous astronaut duly accepted an invitation to share a few drinks in Room number such & such - appearing at the door a few minutes later. He proved to be an entertaining guest, evidently, spending an hour or so in friendly conversation, during which he revealed that it had been part of the deal to keep his visit secret. Rather risky, I should have thought, especially given that he was booked into the hotel under his real name - albeit only a surname.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

A Captain, a King and a Tale of Two Cities

Dunedin's Anna Chinn has likely never darkened the Captain Cook Tavern's doorway, unlike countless thousands of her University of Otago alumni over several generations, many of whom have fonder and more vivid memories of "The Cook" than they have of the university library or the Castle Lecture Theatres. Their eagerness to indulge in the fermented and spirituous nectars available therein as they approached the venerable institution would easily have outranked any desire to admire the views to the north, or indeed the south, along Great King Street.

If they didn't see a reason to turn their gaze from the pub door to the magnificent tree-lined Dunedin streetscape with its Mount Cargill backdrop, it's hardly likely they puzzled, as I did today, over the origin of the street's name. Were the city fathers of the day honouring a revered king? Dunedin was settled by Scots in the late 1840s, when Victoria was already 10 years into her reign, so there was no king at the time. When her son succeeded her on the throne in 1901 as King Edward the Seventh, Great King Street would have been named long since. Could it have been named Great King Street to differentiate it from a now long forgotten Little King Street? And then, the penny dropped. Of course. Great King Street, Dunedin was named after its Edinburgh counterpart, like so many other Dunedin streets: George Street, Princes Street, Cumberland Street, Moray Place and Rattray Street to name but a few. Edinburgh's Great King Street was presumably named in honour of Scotland's revered King James the Sixth (James the First of England). Puzzle solved. 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Who was the luckier?

During the past week, two New Zealanders have drawn the short straw against huge odds. The first, one of hundreds of thousands driving innocently along motorways, was suddenly confronted by another vehicle which, having entered via an exit ramp and therefore travelling in the wrong direction, struck him head on and killed him intantly. The second, a thirty-something male supermarket checkout operator, won a 26 million dollar lottery jackpot and bravely declared that he would be at work at 5.00am the next morning as usual. When he learned of the waiting media scrum, he didn't front and left town for places unknown. Most would say the latter was the lucky one. I wonder.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Ultimate April Fools' Prank

Dunedin's daily newspaper, The Otago Daily Times, will be gutted at April Fools' Day falling on the only non-publishing day of the week. For many years they have kept a tradition of running a fictional (but sometimes almost credible) front page story of local interest to feature on their 1st April front page. It's a bit of fun, but my failure to recall the detail of a solitary historical example might say something about their quality. Then again, it probably says even more about the recollection ability of my aging brain.

The April Fools' prank that comes most readily to my mind was perpetrated perhaps 12 or more years ago in this city. It duped more local citizens than any newspaper could ever have hoped to reach in such a short time.

Harbour Cone is a former volcano, thought to have been extinct for millions of years, which features prominently in views from most parts of Dunedin.

Before dawn on the day of which today is an anniversary, a person or persons unknown climbed to the summit, where they set and lit a large smoky fire just behind the peak, where the fire itself couldn't be seen.

Thousands of Dunedin citizens awoke to the unthinkable sight of their beloved Harbour Cone apparently awaking from its long sleep. Brilliant!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Signs of humour....

... in Te Anau

.... in The Catlins

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

People and their Gardens

My work often involves visiting people at their homes. Mostly, when I walk through the front gate and up the path, I have very little factual information about the person or people behind the door. But I can usually make a pretty intelligent guess about their personalities. How? In order to reach the front door, one has to negotiate the garden, which always says a great deal about the occupants of the property.

Immaculately groomed gardens are usually the domains of meticulous and extremely punctual folk. If you're visiting by appointment, don't be late.

Gardens featuring ornamental grasses, astelias, manicured pebble mulches and modern sculptures are almost always owned by people who don't have much creativity but are desperate for others to think they do, so they've hired a professional to design and create a garden like the Joneses'. Don't fart in their garden, because they wouldn't even do so themselves.
 Modern Garden Designs for Your New House Plans

Colourful gardens with heaps of flowering plants signify happy, friendly individuals who are usually at peace with themselves and with the world. Nice people to spend time with.

Unkempt, overgrown gardens can sometimes indicate unfortunate occupants who are not well enough or strong enough to keep their surroundings tidy and don't have the means of paying someone else to do so. In other cases they lack respect for themselves and their neighbours and they are downright lazy.

Quirky and original gardens are owned by creative people, usually with a sense of humour and the balls to be themselves.