Piggyback Prowess

Picture 24

When a Topp Twin offers you the chance to shoulder a 45kg boar around an obstacle course, there can only really be one answer. At last weekend’s Mid Canterbury hunting competition, that answer was yes. Off came the floral jumper, on came ‘Horace’ the pig, and we were off.

Wearing a boar as a backpack certainly gives new meaning to the term ‘piggy back’. It’s also a darn sight harder than it looks, as I found out at the first turn. I was all set to go around the corner. Horace, it seems, had other plans, and momentum was on his side. After going very wide we struggled up the hill and down the straight to the halfway mark and around the cone. So far, so good. Falling to my knees on the brow of the final hill, I momentarily disappeared inside of Horace, but a pat on the nose saw him get back into line and we crossed the finish in the second fastest time, complete with several more bruises than we’d started out with.

I was surprised to learn that this was not a one off event, but one that youngsters begin training for before they are even old enough to say ‘Captain Cooker’. The precursor to the ladies event had seen a host of small children running round a miniature obstacle course with a dead wallaby or hare slung over their shoulders. They get them started on pest control young down this way, that’s for sure.

It was also the first time that I had seen camouflage gear in action. Boys who wear a mottled print around town tend to stand out more than anything else, but at this hunting competition the number of people sporting khaki hunting and fishing clothing made it appear as if a forest had suddenly taken root in the hotel car park. If it wasn’t for the coffee cart line spoiling the forest ambience, the deer and tahr could’ve still been at home in the hills.

While they were not green, my gumboots and thermals were put to good use, helping me to blend in amongst the crowd. Then came prizegiving. The question ‘where are you from’ is usually quite benign, and when the reply is Hinds or Hakatere, people are not likely to bat an eyelid. My answer of Auckland, however, caused a collective intake of breath so sharp that I wouldn’t be surprised if it affected the air pressure enough to show up on the national weather radar. What was the world coming to when an Aucklander could out piggyback everyone but an Irish vet?

As shocked as my mother may be by my latest sporting prowess, at least I can confidently tell her that I can not only stand on my own two feet with a pig in tow, I can also bring home the bacon to boot.

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Robert Hunter (Homo Sapiens)

1. Lateral Rectus
These eyes have seen many leaves, mapped many ecosystems. They have spotted butterflies, observing them in their natural habitats for hours before stalking them and pouncing. The insects fill his drawers, locked away from the world’s gaze in a perpetual night time. Once upon a time they spotted a young woman.

2. Depressor Anguli Oris
This jaw has birthed a wealth of words and described the intricacies of flight. It has swallowed sweet nectar, composed sweet nothings, sung tunes to be carried on a whispering wind. Once upon a time the young woman whispered back.

3. Abductor Pollicis Brevis
These hands have sketched many wings, drawn countless lifecycles. Many a caterpillar has supped on this palm, many a wing been carefully embalmed by these fingers. Once upon a time the young woman took his hand to be her own.

4. Flexor Digitorum Brevis
These feet have hiked up many peaks and through towering valleys. They have danced for joy in a time of transformation. A girl? A boy? Monarchs may be sexed by a dark spot on their dorsal wing. Once upon a time the woman’s belly was ripe and she was bound to her bed.

5. Heart
This heart has beat for only one. She hid, constructed a chrysalis around her swelling until the fever peaked. He touched her face. A butterfly catheter, a swarm of white coats, two tiny shoes, perpetual night time … Mariposa Fernandez.
Once upon a time she broke his heart.

Grey Power

Here in Ashburton the 20-29 year old is a rare breed, making up less than 10% of the total population. Many young people leave the Ashburton area after school to take up study opportunities or to travel, and fewer move in to fill the gaps. We’re hard to pin down – no longer requiring parents’ notes to participate in contact sports, but not yet old enough to have passed the halfway mark towards Greypower membership.

It’s been a new experience for me, having grown up in a city where over a quarter of central city residents are in their twenties. Auckland’s several universities and multitude of entry level positions for graduates from around the country attract youth, and it wasn’t until I moved South that I started to really think about the make up of New Zealand as a whole.

Perhaps the queues of mobility scooters lining the hall of the MSA should have been a clue that I was entering an area with a slightly different demographic, but it was a visit to the cinema that first got me thinking. I lined up, purchased my ticket and enjoyed the film. So far so good. It was only when I went to dispose of my ticket that I took notice of what was written on it – I had been sold a pensioner ticket.

Now I know that some of my friends are worried about the odd premature grey hair, but I have generally been the one to be mistaken for a student when giving talks in High Schools, singled out by bouncers for looking underage, and asked by sports coaches ‘do your parents know you’re here?’ Needless to say, discovering that I had been sold a pensioner ticket came a shock. My KiwiSaver account was nowhere near ready for this eventuality.

Following hot on the heels of a hip operation for a condition initially deemed to be ‘age-related degeneration’, I had to wonder: was everyone else seeing something I wasn’t? A trip to the supermarket later that week did nothing to put my mind at ease. In New Zealand it is common practice to ask for ID if a customer looks under 25, but as I approached the counter with my probiotic yoghurt, English Breakfast Tea and a bottle of Sav, it seemed that I didn’t. I sighed. I paid. I collected my bags.

It was only on the way out that I was stopped and belatedly asked, because, as the supervisor explained, I was ‘looking younger by the minute’. At last, a return to the age bracket I had, up until the movie ticket incident, most identified with! This was the sort of transformation featured in daytime infomercials, the sort of result promised by countless potions stocked by the very supermarket in question. Perhaps I should apply to be the new face of L’Oreal?

As it turned out, the pensioner movie ticket was actually just the discount price, as I found out the next time I went the cinema. I had not developed decades long amnesia, but rather experienced first hand the truth of the old adage ‘youth is wasted on the young’. I can now take my time to grow old gracefully, and I will never be offended to be asked for ID again!

Conversation on Tap

On a recent visit to Auckland, the conversation turned to where I was living now. When my reply of ‘Methven’ was met with blank stares, I decided to have a bit of fun, and with my serious face pasted firmly in place I told them yes, it’s a South Island town and everyone who lives there works in a tap factory. While this was met with some looks of scepticism, a visit to the bathroom added weight to my story. ‘What did the tap say?’ I asked ‘Methven…’ ‘Well, there you go then!’ Following the lead of Paeroa’s L&P bottle and Rakaia’s salmon, it makes sense that even New Zealand’s smallest towns must be famous for something. If Springfield can boast a Simpsons-style donut, then my claim to the tap was certainly not out of the question.

As it is, there are more ski instructors than plumbers living in this town at the moment. Things are starting to get busy thanks to the snow, but the place still retains a small town feel where most people know most other people and those other people definitely know where you live. At first glance, this may appear to be a very different environment to the one I grew up in, but it turns out it’s not so alien after all.

While Auckland is big by New Zealand standards, it hardly compares to places overseas. It’s more like a collection of small villages jammed tightly against each other than one homogenous splodge on the map. Imagine if Canterbury was picked up by the corners and all the wee towns tumbled together to rest side by side, Rolleston against Rakaia and Ashburton against Amberly. That’s sort of how Auckland works, and even though a Pak ‘n’ Save is well within driving distance no matter where you live, everyone still has their favourite Four Square.

That’s certainly how it feels when I go back to visit, as a visit to any of the cafes in Mt Eden means I’m just about guaranteed to run into one of my friends’ parents or my sister’s primary school teacher from ten years ago. Each area has a community as distinct as those in Canterbury’s different towns and when you’re on home turf everyone knows your parents. That’s really what going home is all about, because as the saying goes, it’s who you know, not what you know. (Although in some cases a little research on New Zealand’s plumbing production wouldn’t go amiss).

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian

What Lies Beneath

Whispers of whale oil
And promises of 28 minute self serve dry cleaning
Adorn brick walls
Proudly proclaiming the wares of history
And urging the audience to
‘Protect your investment’
With a lick of paint.

This paint’s long dry,
Buried behind designer developments
And the promise of a brighter future
The signs decay
Until one day
They are awoken from their slumber
As walls tumble
With an almighty crash…

Come September,
They find a different world
With cents, not pence
Where nothing makes sense
Anymore.

Filling The Gaps

Christchurch, aka ‘Shaky Town’, has not been getting the best press lately. Often all that makes it into the news is doom and gloom to do with EQC and earthquake damage, but there are all sorts of creative seeds being sown all over the city, often where you’d least expect to find them. Gapfiller is a community project that aims to ‘temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city’ and has seen artists and innovators take to the streets in an effort to turn empty sites into sights and experiences for the local community.

The first I knew of this project was when a whole lot of milk bottle flowers started decorating the mesh fences around vacant sites. Then there was the cycle powered cinema, which took the site of a demolished bike shop and put the power back in the legs of the people, quite literally. The public was invited to bring a bicycle and pedal on a specially built stand to power a dyno and project cycle related movies onto the wall of an adjacent building. With a very limited season, people were queuing up to have a spin, and the picnic blankets invited those who just wanted to watch to do so, enjoying the spectacle with people from their local community.

Participation has been a big thing with many of the Gapfiller projects, and the way they are set up encourages interaction with others. The Dance-O-Mat is a case in point – insert $2 into an old converted washing machine, plug in your music device and voila, 30 minutes of DJ-ing on the purpose built dance floor ensues. While most people may be inclined to decline the offer of joining in at 2pm on a weekday, the installation was open 24/7, and there are always people who can’t resist a good boogey on their way past. For those who simply don’t dance, the mini golf hole next door provided a welcome alternative.

At the centre of the Gapfiller project is the Pallet Pavilion, a venue built entirely out of blue packing pallets. Over the past summer it’s played host to performances for the busking festival, music jams, vintage markets, scrabble nights and much more. This weekend I was very excited to hear that the pavilion has secured funding for another season, thanks to the generosity of the very people who use it and appreciate what it stands for. That’s right, $82,000 in crowd funding is not bad, and it also shows how much impact a grass roots project can have on a community. I’m proud to be able to say that my name’s on one of those pallets, and that 879 other people felt the same way as me about the importance of this creative hub in the midst of a transitional city.

Gapfiller makes that transition into a positive, celebratory experience. As well as the interactive activities, there are the poems, the interactive chalkboard projects and the transient murals that pop up to make an empty lot into an attraction and help to replace the lost landmarks of the city. These just-round-the-corner surprises are like little gifts to each day, and little by little they are creating a new layer of myths and cultural heritage for places that now only exist in memory. For someone who moved to Canterbury after the earthquakes and doesn’t share those memories or the ghost map of the city, this is a very exciting way to orientate myself, focusing in on the flowers amongst the rubble. The seeds have been planted, and the projects that have bloomed over the past two summers are sure to make the ground more fertile for even bigger dreams to take root come next spring.

For a map of the current Gapfiller projects and to find out more, visit http://www.gapfiller.org.nz/

Grandpa is a Scarecrow

Grandpa is a scarecrow
He guards our peas and corn
And greets incoming visitors
From his place out on the lawn

While straw is sorely lacking
He has clavicles instead
And seasonal blooms to decorate
The sockets in his head

Grandpa’s out there all year round
His bones are bleached all white
He stands out in the garden
Giving errant birds a fright

Our neighbours won’t come near him
They think it’s rather odd
That we should use a skeleton
To guard our turf and sod

But Grandpa, he’d be happy
He always used to say
‘So long as one’s a gardener
He’ll live to see another day’

A Cardigan Yarn

An Irishwoman, a Scotswoman and a Kiwi lass are sitting together in a bar… it sounds like the outline of a satirical cartoon, but this was the scene last weekend when my orange cardigan had a lesson in southern socialisation. It was a new cardigan, bought a few weeks earlier during an Auckland shopping spree. Nestled between my thermals and coat, it was a bright, snuggly winter garment with thermal properties to boot, and with not a soy chai latte in sight, it was breaking into new territory.

The first lesson occurred en route to my rendezvous, when the functionality of the garment was tested by a brisk sou’wester. Having existed in a city window display up until this moment, it took a few blocks for the loose knit cardie to come into its own and actually perform its inherent thermal duties. My brisk pace and the threat of swapping it for a swanndri may have helped, as it is now aware that any high street fashion credentials fail to hold water once the temperature tumbles towards zero.

Once inside the cardigan proved itself to be a magnet for conversation, especially once the visiting rugby side turned up. Kitted out in blazers and ties like overgrown school boys, they looked set to get in some practice for the upcoming rural bachelor of the year competition. Unfortunately, the pick up lines they trotted out matched their attire. While admirably direct, they are simply not fit for publication without an R18 label, and the more benign ‘nice cardigan, did your grandmother knit it?’ just doesn’t quite cut it when delivered amidst a sea of insinuations about what may or may not be underneath. They soon went to try their luck elsewhere.

Several games of pool and an argument about the definitions of ‘jersey,’ ‘pullover’ and ‘ganzie’ later, the cardigan came up in conversation again, this time because of its hue rather than its weave. By this point we’d been joined by several kiwi friends, and the national factions that my northern hemisphere friends were happy to overlook had come to the fore. Blue and orange may be opposite colours, but they lead people to draw the same conclusions, particularly when one is honest about one’s geographic heritage. Thus, I was subjected to the first ‘jafa’ remark I’ve heard all year and my cardigan learnt that a few degrees of latitude can make an innocent choice of dye into the catalyst for inter island hostilities.

Temperature, temperament and topography all made their mark, inducting my city garment into southern life. Next time we head to the local I think I’ll settle for donning red and black in the hope of keeping both the winter cold and confectionery themed comments at bay, but the hardy cardie will live to see another day yet.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian