Category | Stories

Day 20: Lang Suan

This is a guest post generously shared by Nicholas Jordan, a freelance writer who peddled his insatiable appetite around Thailand and wrote about it over at Im Still Alive. I met Nicholas walking the Routebourn trek in New Zealand’s deep south a couple of years ago, he was eating a bag of spinach because he reckoned it had “the best price to nutrients to weight ratio.” I got hooked midway through this journey, and have chosen to drop you there on Day 20, but if you like what you see, I encourage you to get back to Day 1. –Byron. Ed.

 

March 27, 2014

Alan told me he’s really slow. I didn’t believe him because that’s totally a normal thing to say to a stranger you’re about to ride over 100km with. We were both trying to suss the other person out and make sure they’re not a total gun and or a slothian slug from the slums of slowtown either. We didn’t ride very far today so I’m still unsure of how fast or slow he actually is.

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Climbing Diaries Part 1: Getting off the Ground

Last week a young man was rescued from a 400 million year-old rock crack out west of Victoria. Famous in climbing circles, the Squeeze Test at Mt Arapiles is a committing clamber through a boulder that sits split in half not far from the local campsite. He had slipped and trapped his hip around 10 at night, and spent a rainy 10-hours there before rescue services were able to successfully slide him out to safety. Thousands have no doubt passed the Test since Mt Arapiles was first pioneered as a rock-climbing mecca in the 60’s, but to the uninitiated, the idea is fucking terrifying, and so it should be. I’ve squeezed through the rock a few times now, and let me tell you it’s no picnic, and I’m on the narrow side of skinny. Not that you’d need convincing, imagine yourself for a moment thrutching* your wedged body horizontally between two rocky surfaces. It’s too narrow to turn your head around once you’re in.

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What do tourists want?

If you’re from New Zealand, you’re probably used to viewing tourists with mild distain.  I’m not sure why, it seems silly, but we do.

I think people should treat tourists in the same way that you would treat intelligent and curious children, rather than the way we do treat them, which is as if they were dairy cattle with credit cards.  After all, not even dairy cattle should be treated like dairy cattle.

*

New Zealand isn’t a cheap country to travel in.  The currency is expensive, and we’re an expensive place to live even for us.  Our cheese costs more than cheese anywhere, and despite the fact that it’s not very good we export it and pride ourselves on it.

Our attitude to such things seems much like our attitude to our 100% Pure branding.  “If that’s what we say we are, then we must be that” we cry.  And then we walk around with our chests puffed out feeling quite proud of ourselves.

It’s a kind of arrogance to assume that anyone would be interested in the sorts of things that we try and foist on tourists.  These are often people no wealthier than us, who have travelled a long way to meet us on our own terms, because they’re curious about us.  And yet we seem to assume that anything they do here will exceed their wildest expectations.

*

Let’s say that I’m a hypothetical Chilean web-designer called Rodrigo.

I’m thirty-three.  My girlfriend and I broke up, and so I’ve taken a month off while she moves out of our apartment in Valparaiso and moves in with the banker she started sleeping with.  I’ve come to New Zealand because the landscape looks amazing in half a dozen films I’ve seen, and my girlfriend was hooked on Flight of the Conchords, so she’ll feel she’s missing out.

But I don’t want to fly across the world to be given the chance to pat a sheep.  I know what wool is.  I wear wool everyday.  Even if it’s brought from Gap, even if it’s bought from Zara.  I’m not wowed by paua-shells.  Elsewhere they’re called abalone.  And kiwifruit are from South America, as are Fejoas.

It was expensive to fly here.  I could have bought a new Macbook Pro for what it cost me to get here.  So I’m prepared to rough it a little, but I’m not prepared to live off Weetbix in 8-bed hostel dorms full of teenaged European males.  Nevertheless, this is probably what’s going to happen to me, as I can’t afford the hundred-plus dollars a night for any sort of hotel room.  Airbnb only has shoeboxes and strange things called “farmstays” listed, and the couchsurfers here only seem to want to host teenaged European females.

The train I catch down the country costs twice what flying would have, but moves at about walking pace, and there are such constant heavily accented announcements about unintelligible local trivia and some sort of spiral that I stop listening, and so miss my stop.  I just want to walk in the forests and eat local cuisine and listen to local music, but you seem to need a car to get to any of the forests, the local music is mostly murky garage bands, and there’s no identifiable local cuisine at all.

I pay a lot of money for a package tour as I’m not meeting anyone and feeling pretty lonely, which just means that I continue feeling lonely, but in Hobbiton, and while patting a sheep.

Sigh.

*

I’m not Rodrigo any more.  I’m me again now.

And some of my best times when wandering have been when people like Rodrigo have shown me round, and let me see their world for a moment.  Watching stars while drinking wine with students on a fifteenth century rooftop in in Coimbra, ruining a shirt while trying to help fix the engine on a stalled launch that then took me for free to Isla do Mel, in Brazil.  (A roadless island where people move everything by wheelbarrow)  Singing badly in a gospel choir in Du Pont, South Georgia.  My singing was terrible, but they still fed me.

I don’t mind being embarrassed when I’m a tourist, or even being uncomfortable, but I do want something real.  Because I’m real.  Where I live is real.  Where everyone lives is real.  So what’s the point in unreal places?  We have the Internet so we don’t have to actually try and create them in the real world.

Perhaps this my horror of theme parks coming out, but I really don’t think many people cross oceans to get strapped onto a flying fox that lands in a field of sheep, or to ride a horse that was used in lord of the rings.  You can do both of these things in Motueka.  But I think most people want to do something more real, even in Motueka.

The sort of encounter you have with Goofy or Cinderella in Disneyworld is what I would call unreal.  I know people who have worked in both these roles, and it’s been a pretty strange experience for them.  The Goofy I know quit after a concerted attack of eight-year-olds pushed her into a pool and she couldn’t get her giant plastic head off and was only rescued from drowning by one of the parents.

Would children do this to a real person?

Disneyesque myths are not myths of humanity, they’re myths of inanity.  Let’s steer away from these.  They’re at best awful re-interpretations of what were once meaningful stories.  In Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid the protagonist finds that every step after she gains her legs is like stepping on knives.  There’s no mention of this in the Disney version.  How has this been forgotten?  It’s a tale about the cost of changing the world you live in, and I know which version makes more sense to me.

Most of the culture we offer tourists in New Zealand is down near the level of Disney.  I don’t think Disney makes for intelligent and well rounded children any more than our tourist industry encourages intelligent and well-rounded tourists.   And being snobby towards tourists is about as fair as being snobby towards children.

I know that trying to cater to the tastes of people with totally different backgrounds to you is always going to be difficult.  It’s like being a chef with no taste buds, a perfumer with no sense of smell, a deaf musician.  But not much of the tourism on offer in New Zealand seems to include the possibility that a tourist is just like you, but from somewhere else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Escapism

We are giddy with pleasure to present new work from resident Anna-grammer Anna-grams!

See more at her site: here

 

 

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Open Mics: A Compendium of Souls

Open mic jam sessions. Most people have stumbled across at least one such gathering. Where everyone is welcome and everyone is nervous, either because of what they are about to perform, or what they are about to witness. The adrenalin adds to the thrill. The experience is reminiscent of busking, except nobody gets paid, and there is an added sense of guilt if you walk away when someone is half way through a song. The hosts try and claim there are rules, but let’s face it, there are none. ‘Three songs only’ can be interpreted as ‘Open with Smoke on the Water, then play your morose 18 minute looped instrumental guitar piece, followed by a suicide threat relating to an ex-partner, then an ironic Britney Spears cover, because everyone knows Smoke on the Water was just a warm up. Then consider an encore

When the host turns off the PA or has the offender removed by security after the third uninvited encore, the stage once again sits in a dimly lit anticipation, waiting for whoever has finally found themself next on the list. The earnest youth with all heart and no skills, the dedicated master with all skills and no heart. The too louds and the too quiets, the progressive, the kitsch, the unpredictable, the Next Big Thing, the last big thing, the once-was from decades past. The bits left in the sieve, the bits that are not yet (or never were) refined enough to slip through the cracks into the comfort of mainstream acceptance.

I collect these moments; a compendium of souls bore through song, in whatever city, village, nook or cranny I might find an open mic. Hotel lobbies, basement bars, converted churches or prison cells, cocktail lounges, alfresco gardens, non-descript corners and nowhere petrol station taverns. Interiors dotted with bar stools, pool tables, poker machines and plasma TV screens. Couches. Chandeliers. Candles. Crowded or near empty with cover bands, metal bands, rappers, and troubadours; suits, bohos, hobos, who knows…

The most recent addition to the compendium is the Parisian man shredding variations of Pachelbel’s Canon on a skull guitar in a packed den of warm smiles near Pont Neuf in St Germain. For the most part, the distortion in the amp drowned out the sounds of the Brazilian man throwing up in the toilets.

From two years earlier, there is the semi-crippled boy soldier (now a young man) from Sierra Leone, standing near a pool table in a tavern on an island off the coast of Washington, singing heart breaking tales with all feeling and no discernable melody as the unrehearsed and ill-briefed house band play a cheesy impromptu reggae backing mix. Never have I felt cringe and admiration in such equal measures.

Then there are the countless Mondays I spent with a friend driving down a deserted highway to a dilapidated hotel nestled between the bridge and the train line in North Fremantle in Western Australia. Of all of the evenings here, there is one that stands out. Present (other than my friend and I) were the MC, two Swedish backpackers, some regular orange vests straight from the wharfs, and Ozzie Osbourne (dead ringer). He was there every week, drinking his routine bottle of bourbon, with few words and ample presence. This was the first time I had seen him take the stage. Under the gaze of the two dull stage lights, his long black hair shone from the bottom of his black cowboy hat, his black leather get up glowed and his dark glasses reflected like half dead disco balls. The only thing that sparkled with any ardency was the white shell pieces in his yin and yang belt buckle. He slurred a few mutterings, fumbled onto his chair and then began to tune his guitar. This tension building exercise went on for about twenty minutes. The “audience” grew impatient and started to heckle (mainly: “play a song!”).  As the tuning was just right he told everyone where to go in no uncertain terms, picked up the dregs of his bourbon, and exited the building. The room was quiet for a bemused moment of awe in his wake. Once again the stage was empty, waiting in dimly lit anticipation for whoever was next on the list.

Unlike a stadium gig, where every millisecond of uncertainty is choreographed away with pre-recordings, blinding lights and scripted or non-existent banter, these nights guarantee nothing. These nights cannot be replicated, only recounted by those who are lucky or unlucky enough to bear witness. These are the kind of nights you can’t pay for. These are the nights you don’t pay for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seawomen & Pussies

Captain TUG’s Log: The Moral Compass.
+13° 42′ 2.51″, +123° 13′ 10.91″ Philippines Archipelago.

On land today, I came across a kitten with pink eye. With such intense pink eye that there was no room left for the eye within a socket so overfilling with yellow puss streaming down its cheek; that I assumed it had hidden itself somewhere in the back of its skull.

At first It made me sick.

Then it made me sad.

Then it made me think.

I instinctively returned to the ship and proceeded to locate the medical kit I had been entrusted with back in Australia and searched for the eye wash, gloves and the ipad oops eye pad.

Upon returning to the kitten I noticed I now attracted the attention of a few locals. I was there now too with my country counterparts, they all looked at me wondering:

Why was I starring at such an ugly kitten for so long?

Why all the attention? And

What did I plan to do with those gloves?

The answer was, I wasn’t sure.

My trusty local counterpart looked at me and said quite calmly  ‘it will die, some live here & some die’. You see, I was in a small provincial town in the Philippines and my moral compass hadn’t adjusted fully from the ole country. My compass orientated me to the idea that if a kitten has such intense pink eye that in shock, you should instinctively try and aid it. However, upon further thought, and my counterpart’s wise words, I concluded that what I would actually be doing would be extending the pathetic excuse of that cat’s existence. An existence riddled by pain, quotidian hunger and sans love.

What logic later suggested was that I grab the nearest stone and smash it against its head in one motion, a stealthy kick into the sea perhaps, as an old sailor friend of mine had done. Kill the Kitten and Kill the Pain of its own life. If the kitten would die soon, and was currently dyeing a slow death, would that not be the more moral thing to do? kill it quick, now(without enjoying it) Arghhh.

What did I do?

Nothing. Which is of course always something.

So in summary, and spare a little thought about what you might do and why? I came up with these three likely actions in response to this everyday land situation of the pink eye kitten.

a. Do nothing resist an instinctual urge*, continue to walk by.
b. Try to aid the dying kitten.
c. Kill the kitten.

a. This  ‘instinctual urge’ is in fact not really innate or instinctual at all but yet just another example of ingrained social normalisation i.e resist a couple of times and apathy comes along, soon, instinctually,

b. aiding the kitten in any way is prolonging a death in this context. Even if l let you take it back to your house you’ll be moving soon and cant take it and then you have created a weak monster. Besides you cant apply this logic to every kitten. Or can you?

c. You would get a few strange looks from people around you and blood on your shoes but overall the kitten thanks you.

It got me thinking, just a little.

In nautical terms a true compass reading takes into consideration standard deviation, on account of the angle between the true north and the magnetic north. So can the same be said about our moral compass readings? Do we need to allow for moral deviation and take into account our present chartered waters?

My reaction that day (dressed in rubber gloves) was so bizarre for all reasonable locals watching. Something that took a few days to sink in. Subsequently spending more time here, and since noticing the varying hardships of other animals and human lives in town I began to understand the relevance of relativism.

I recall some towns folk cooking up dog a little while ago, I looked in shock at first but now It leads me to confirm C. C I believe was by far the best moral decision out of the three also resulting in the greatest good (had I have shared the kitten chops).

In Summary todays log.

a. I’m sorry I didn’t smash the kittens head in with a near by rock. I saw one but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

b. When I’m out facing moral conundrums I tend to think about it for too long and finally do nothing.

c. Nothing is always something.

 

Captain TUG (Tania Undies Groba) is a part time tall ships sailor, quarter time musician and occasional joke teller. With a sensibility for nonsense and a sensitivity that breaks out into rash in the face of sterile pragmatism, she is often seen talking her way out of serious predicaments opting to settle contentions with human pyramids. Having spent a small lifetime in Australia’s oldest circus she has come to realise that the world at large is a pathetic excuse for a show that we are paying for, and if we cant find the absconded ticket man/woman she suggests… lets critic the show. Tania is living in Calabanga, Philippines for a little while longer.

 

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UP THE PUNKS 2012: The City Seen Through Thirty Something Noisy Years of Wellington Punk Culture.

 
 
 
 
 
“Not in the habit of saving things for posterity or thinking themselves as history. Not caring about the past, not seeing too much future to look forward too. Whether or not that was really true, it was definitely the understood attitude and mood… I’ve just started on this book and already I’m on a tangent…”

Aaron Cometbus

 

Time. It’s treated quite strangely in the world of punk rock. Most people arrive as though they were the first. And they leave out the back door to make way for a younger, more energised generation. Aaron Cometbus, of the Bay Area fanzine Cometbus, nailed it in a retrospective on his first 20 years of zine-making. When it came to cultural self-awareness, he claimed that punks were decidedly evasive. Whether fueled by  idealism or nihilism, they were preoccupied in a haze of the ‘spirit of the times’. The view from the blazing vehicle of punk rock is framed by a combination of radical ideas, growing pains and fast guitars. Vision under such speed is surely fuzzy. Beyond the ‘here and now’ getting a cultural perspective to the past (or future) is hard. But the last decade or so has seen a renewed interest from within and without Wellington’s punk community with a call to explore the vestiges of time and uncover the recesses of the city’s nearly forgotten punk past.

Enter Wellington’s own unique and peculiar cultural time-machine – UP THE PUNKS! It travels to depths of 35 years ago and up to the active present, exhibiting the stories and artefacts of a vibrant, living underground community. The ongoing documenting and open source archiving initiative provides an important means of linking together a body of diverse works such as music, arts, literature, activism and various aspects of DIY culture, which would otherwise seem disparate across generations past and present. Youth culture is rarely this prolific and broadly expressed. It is a showcase of spirit – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

 

Original poster for UP THE PUNKS 2002 designed by Kerry Ann Lee

 

To claw back the history of an obscure society, obsessed with its very obscurity, is not an easy task. Works can be as fleeting as youth itself, leaving little trace, if any at all. But memory will still prevail. People still fondly recall the legendary performance of influential bands which never lasted long enough to produce more than a rough demo and play at some house parties; rants from a younger version of someone-you-know found in a photocopied zine which was subsequently lost to time and a small print run; piles of old screen-printed posters and merch; dusty records and cordially exchanged mixtapes now warped and stretched; abandoned film negatives of rallies and hangouts with cherished friends. Interesting and unexpected things happens when returning to these places.

 

Punk was always positioned in relation to a wider context, differentiating itself from mainstream society. But over time, as we all know, things change, the mainstream changes too, and so each generational iteration of punk rockers bear traces of that change too. I can’t help but recall the backdrop of a transitional Wellington city in the 1990s, its people waking up from the quiet slumber of economic downturn. People were crawling out of brutalist buildings determined to paint over the grey walls that had only served to compliment the depressive color of the sky.
Whether or not these are actually my own memories, I’m reminded of something geographic, something spatial and material, tangible and almost graspable; squats on the waterfront as Te Papa was still in construction; un-refurbished flats with remnants of 70’s décor; walking home after school via The Freedom Shop, the local anarchist bookstore which was housed in a rustic shed on upper Cuba St before being squeezed out by the Bypass; the hired-out community halls; picking bottles off the street during shows; skinhead encounters in Newlands; skateboarding with mates in the Hutt; the patience required to order records and zines from overseas…

 

The Cure jamming at a house party in Mount Victoria, August 4, 198.1

 

UP THE PUNKS presents a case for continuity between generations otherwise fragmented and disjointed. In doing so it proves, in my mind at least, that the past 35 years wasn’t just an excuse for playing silly buggers after all (although there was a great deal of that too). It’s evidence of a sustained cultural activity. In such a hotbed for ideals put into action, ideas can last a long time, or burn out alongside musical trends, fashion, and haircuts. I’m curious as to how punk – peripheral by nature – has extended and adapted to other aspects of society, or whether (in many cases I imagine) it is left to the embarrassments of youth. It would be interesting to know what happened to those kids as they enter different areas of society, as they develop skill-sets for new contexts and responsibilities. It is contributions from these people that keeps the UP THE PUNKS online archive lively. I can think proudly of punk friends who are now educators, union organisers, lawyers, academics, artists, health care professionals, engineers, innovators, activists, musicians, amazing parents, and just all round good people.

 

A film made by Chris Knox on the punk and post-punk ‘Wellington Scene’ otherwise known as the ‘Terrace Scene’ in 1980. 

 

Without continuing to sound like a back-in-the-day-old-timer, it has to be said that a big aspect of the UP THE PUNKS effort is to present Wellington punk culture as a living community, uniquely localised and continuing today in full force. It stands in contrast to the picture painted by a Te Papa exhibition ten years ago that presented punk as a petrified historical nomenclature that only happened elsewhere. The ongoing spirit of participation from enthusiastic new blood will ensure that punk respond to a changing world, ultimately securing the promise of it’s future.

 

And because of the open sourced, participatory nature of the UP THE PUNKS archive, we now have a means of looking back through the noise of time. With the raw information available to all, the historical narrative of punk in Wellington can be constantly rewritten and contested.

At 16 years and counting, Punkfest is New Zealand’s longest running annual punk event.

 

UP THE PUNKS proposes one last important thing; that this living history is also a slice of the city’s history. It’s “the Wellington you didn’t know you didn’t know” as aptly put by John Lake in the Pledgeme fundraising campaign. The minor stories told here reveal the material culture of life in Wellington as told by the people themselves. It is also relevant for the story of independent music in New Zealand. These stories are our history and it’s a history to be shared by all.

 

 

A Pledgeme campaign to fund UP THE PUNKS 2012 has just started. Come along and check it out if you like!

UP THE PUNKS 2012 exhibition and celebrations: November 6-10

 

Exhibition Opening Night: November 6, 2012, 6PM, Thistle Hall
Gettin’ Worse: Punx Still Angry, November 7, San Fran Bathhouse. Check out the new breed with Numbskull, DILFS, Influence and more…

 

Closing Night Party, November 10, Thistle Hall Upstairs
All ages gig expanding the definition of punk with So So Modern, Rogernomix, All Seeing Hand, Mr Sterile Assembly, Johnny and The Felchers and more…

 

www.upthepunks.co.nz
www.facebook.com/upthepunks.wellington

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Heartbreak, despair and life lessons in earthquake town: Discovering we don’t actually have absolute rights to ‘our’ land and homes.

In 1942 my grandparents Elsie and Jack Locke moved to Christchurch with their young son Don, and bought a run down workers cottage. This was 392 Oxford Terrace, on the banks of the Avon River, in a community that came to be known as the Avon Loop. At first they were unimpressed with what must have been a damp, dark and small four-roomed house, until they looked back at the river from what was to become Elsie’s study. The river and its banks held much promise; so there they stayed and had three more children. The youngest was my mother who was born in the cottage itself, a rarity in the early 1950’s.

Years later, in the 1980’s my mother settled with my Dad to have us three kids further down stream towards the ocean. We made weekly trips back and forth between that home and the Avon Loop. Ten doors down on Oxford Terrace lives my Dad’s mother, our Grannie, Janet. We spent years along this stretch of the river with our cousins, popping in and out of the cottages, running along the riverbank, swinging in the branches of the willow trees, and revelling in the nurturing attention of our grandparents and the Avon Loop community at gatherings and festivals on the riverbank.

In recent years the Avon Loop has consisted of approximately eighty houses and numerous units in council flats. It has had a long-standing history of strong community resilience. The area started out as neighbourhood of workers houses in the late 1800’s, and became an area for young families in the 1940’s, when my family’s connection to the place began. In the mid 1970’s, a hotel in the Loop threatened to take over much of the community in its proposed expansion, prompting a coordinated community resistance. This heralded the birth of the Avon Loop Protection Association, now known as the Avon Loop Planning Association (ALPA). ALPA won, ensuring that all future developments needed to consult with the community. Furthermore, ALPA created a strong bond between all the residents, young and old, who shared the common aspiration of a connected and responsive community, where all voices and opinions could be heard. A place for the people who took care of the location that supported them, the river itself. ALPA settled into its role as the kaitiaki, the guardians of the river. My grandparents started a recycling scheme, planted the riverbank with natives and instigated the creation of a community cottage and children’s playgroup with ALPA.

However, since September the 4th 2010, anyone connected to Christchurch has had their lives changed forever. Due to two devastating earthquakes and all the smaller ones in between huge parts of Christchurch have been damaged beyond repair. The Avon Loop community was badly damaged, and this time the people have had no power or control over the fate of the community. No means to take part in the subsequent decisions made by the Government regarding the ongoing occupation of the Loop or what will become of the area in the future.

Nearly two years on from that cool spring morning in September 2010, I am sharing my story of the change and loss my family has suffered and continues experience as a result of the earthquakes. The home us kids grew up in out in the suburb of Burwood, a mudbrick house built by family, has crumbled and must be rebuilt. And we are also in the process of losing our family home, our cottage in the Loop, to land zoning and bureaucracy.

The undamaged cottage in which my parents currently live, is a beautifully built house, completed just after the February 2011 earthquake, using the materials from the original cottage that stood on the same site at 392 Oxford Terrace. The new cottage looks the same as the old one from the riverbank, and looks out onto the broken and dying magnolia trees my grandparent’s ashes are buried under. It is nestled among many others, half fallen down, demolished or abandoned. The cottage survived the earthquakes in one piece brilliantly, however the Loop has been red zoned as the riverbank is badly damaged and the land the houses sit on has sunk. The Government is unwilling to fix the riverbank, and insurance companies will no longer cover individual residences because of the new flood risk to the houses. This means all the houses will eventually have to go, whether the houses themselves are sound or not. Our parents have to leave their undamaged, year old home, as does our 92 year old Grannie who lives around the corner. She was on track to live out her days in her home with the support of my parents, however she will now be shifted to a retirement home.

At night there aren’t many lights on, a few here and there in between patches of darkness. It really does feel like coping with imminent death, as more and more households leave the Loop, finding new strong houses and communities elsewhere. This community in which I grew up in with my family, is in the process of dying. Gone are the dreams of living in a supportive, vibrant and happy community, within walking and biking distance of the city centre, living by the river and enjoying family so nearby.  Coping with this situation is very difficult, every day is different. Some days I am angry, others peaceful and accepting. It is an unknown, and no doubt long process we are all moving through together. I am still in shock and disbelief at it all, and sometimes I wonder when I will move on to the ‘next stage of grief’, to get closer to acceptance and healing. I don’t know how these things work, I’ve never felt grief like this before.

There is nothing we can do, lest we pump all of our money into a court battle with the Government we would inevitably lose. Since the second, most damaging and deadly February earthquake, the National Government established an authoritarian department called the ‘Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’, CERA. It is headed by MP Gerry Brownlee, and has effectively taken over the Christchurch City Council’s ability to lead the city’s direction in the future. CERA has a mammoth task co-ordinating a city wide replan, rebuild and repair job, and makes it harder for itself by shutting out affected residents. They are excluding residents and alI the ideas, opinions and experience they have to offer, as well as many professional experts in areas such as design and architecture. Why they have made it impossible for public input is questionable, and as they rarely release any information, technical or otherwise we are left to feel shut out, shut down, disregarded, suspicious and disempowered.

Our family has been learning the hard way that we do not really own land and houses, just the rights to them. The Crown virtually owns New Zealand, which I argue was mostly stolen from Maori. Anyhow, the Crown, enabled by the Government can forcibly remove the rights you have to your land in such events as these. We could think of ourselves as lucky as they are buying out the entire Avon Loop along with many insurance companies, so we do not leave empty handed, if not very short changed, but I cannot consider us lucky. In fact I am fearful. I am scared that as we come back to the Loop less and less, our memories will fade. Each day I have spent there, and spend there now, walking around the riverbank and cottages, I see places that remind me of my grand parents and other memories with family. The community causes me to think daily of my connection to the land and the people on it. I am worried about what will happen when we don’t have this land. I am deeply saddened and frustrated that my daughter will not visit the Loop very often, and will have much less physical reminders of her family roots. She will not remember the time that we were here at all, as she is just two years old. I have taken all of this for granted my whole life, and now I see that not many people have grown up with such a home base.

What is certain is that next April 2013, our family will move out of the Loop, but what will become of the undamaged cottage remains to be seen. Will the Christchurch City Council be convinced to buy it as a park visitor centre? Can it be shifted to another location, or will it be deconstructed within two years of being built, reduced again to a pile of wood as the original cottage was only three years ago.

I currently feel very angry and deeply sad about our predicament, however I know that we will find a new family base somewhere when the time is right. I also know that I will be stronger for this experience, once the wounds begin to heal, and that there are many life lessons we are in the process of learning. I am not sure what they are exactly yet as I feel we are still in the midst of it all. But one thing that is for certain, which comforts me to no end, is that Nana and Grandad will forever remain in the earth on the riverbank, and for this reason alone we are forever bound to the Avon Loop, whatever may come of it in the future. It is sure that machinery will eventually dig up their resting places in order to restore the fragile, collapsed riverbank, or turn it all into a park. However, we will always return to be with our parents and grandparents, with Elsie and Jack Locke, no matter what the uncertain future holds for the river, its banks and the land the houses once stood on in the Loop. They are in the earth and a part of me, therefore I am in the earth and it is me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Liberal Lady

I don’t miss you. In these miles of skies and
blue tinged eyes…..I don’t miss this.

An all-consuming, non-existent hunger
A table full of food – fridge full of waste

Always eating, never hungry – an excessive taste
of air-conditioned space.

Your jokes – make me choke on my
short stack, maple packed
fluffy white
industrial delight.

I could pay the bill – if I wanted to,
you know –
to and fro – to and fro

After 11 years away, the world has changed,
But you haven’t – still the same
excess and consumption –
You greedy lady of Liberty you.

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The concrete layer cake of my childhood

Part 1: Lost in Time and Space

It’s 1988. The same year that Seoul had the summer Olympics, Sonny Bono was elected Mayor of Palm Springs, the former Soviet Union was initiating its economic reform (Perestroika) under Mikhail Gorbachev, Sonic Youth’s fifth studio album ‘Daydream Nation’ was released and incidentally also the same year I somehow managed to get myself locked into the Dunedin Public Library for one whole hour.

I shall now inform the reader that this short tale as a whole is indeed ‘factual’ by nature (well mostly let’s say); fragments are inevitably from the dusty recesses shelved (or not shelved as the case may be) within my memory or ambiguously pieced together from forgotten dreams.

To begin the story, it was like any old weekend school trip to the public library. Yes, you heard me… weekend. I was eight years old at the time. It was the same weekend that Margaret Mahy was going to grace us with her presence and read us some stories at the library. As someone who grew up in Dunedin, the curious behemoth of layered concrete known as the Dunedin Public Library (designed by the City Council’s Architectural Division) always had a seemingly omnipresent, yet comforting feel as a ‘civic surveyor’ of the Octagon city-scape.

Ms. Mahy had read us kids a story during which the mid-afternoon light shifted across the surfaces of the room. The light danced across her rainbow wig like a penumbral halo, gifted to us temporarily from the heavens above. From that point on, my memories dim. I vaguely recall people emptying the space around me as unconscious peripheral shadows during which time the teacher had somehow miscounted the head count.

Voices muffled. Daytime faded into early evening. I was lost in my own little world, doodling I suspect. Within moments I found myself alone… alone to explore my ghostly surrounds.

I had always thought of the building as a giant ‘layer cake’, where the spongi-ness was present as concrete. This now reveals my former obsession with dessert treats. I remember various past school trips, trolling through the shelves and finding myself lost within the books. It seemed all too easy to escape into the womb of my imagination by venturing into a window box or simply resting on the warmth of the carpet floor.

The escapism was most definitely the jam filling between the layers of concrete sponge. In a sense, I feel that libraries lead a wonderful double life with their role as public places in the city – as public places they facilitate both collective and personal intimacy as a refuge for the mind and soul.

Alas my hour was soon at an end. The scene was retold as a slightly embarrassed but relieved teacher escorting an eight year old kid out of the building whilst clutching colouring-in books and looking at his shoes the entire time.

For me, the Dunedin Public Library has and always will be about Margaret Mahy’s rainbow wig, colouring-in books, felt-tip pens and that single hour of my life where I thought the world was quite a different place.

Part 2: Stories of Time in Space

An interest of mine is stories of buildings and places. The belief is that both personal and wider social narratives have the possibility to do more for architectural production than one can anticipate or perhaps, to an extent, appreciate. As one important Sociologist Henri Lefebvre, has already mentioned in his book The Production of Space in the most devastatingly succinct manner possible:

“(Social) space is a (social) product”

The simplicity of this statement belies both an intricate and complex set of overlapping relationships concerning the production of space – where everybody produces space – from the personal to the political and the social to the representational. Stories in this sense have the ability to bring the flux of time and thus life into space; ‘the lived experience’ as embodied memories to buildings and places within a phenomenological dimension; i.e. social, cultural, political, historical, mythological and of course personal time.

Acknowledgments and thanks to the staff at the Dunedin Public Library for allowing me to photograph inside.

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