A Model Citizen

One of my many creative talents, other than writing and talking is modelling – the scale variety, not the catwalk variety.

Although I did do that in high school. Once.

My interest in modelling started off many years ago.

Like generations of kiwi children, I grew up with Toro and Lego blocks, making cars, buildings, planes, trains, space ships and all sorts of things – They were a great introduction to creativity and creation.

But after going to a model show at a local school with my Dad in the 80’s and seeing the dioramas and detail that went into scale models, I was hooked!

Dad had been a bit of a modeller himself in his younger days. But rather than planes or trains, Dad made buildings.
He was so good he made it into Napier’s Daily Telegraph with a model of the city’s new St John’s Cathedral.

He was even offered a job with the Ministry of Works in Wellington making scale models of proposed buildings, bridges and structures, but turned it down.

The first two kits we ever got and made together were a WWII Mk 1 Spitfire and a Cold War Mig-27 Flogger jet fighter.

We put them together in the garage, glued them and even painted the Spitfire. It was a wonderful bonding experience and a cherished memory.

I started making more and more models.

The closest model shop to our house was also a bike shop, so ever since those days a part of me has associated model kits with the smell of rubber (and glue and paint..).

I even won a prize for the Skyhawk diorama I made in a local toy shop’s modelling competition.

The prize? Another model kit!

I believe this was what they called a “gateway drug“…

It was around this time that Japanese model giants, Tamiya were really taking off in New Zealand, especially with their radio controlled cars (the “Lunchbox”, “Bigwig” and “Hotshot” are still my all-time favourites) and 1/35 scale model tanks and soldiers.

These military models became a real interest of mine (what would modelling today be without the rather magnificent engineering and design that was so unfortunately dedicated to the death and destruction of war?) because the size of these 1/35 scale models leant themselves very well to becoming the basis for highly detailed dioramas – little scenes of frozen time, usually in the heat of battle, or sometimes candid moments of rest from the fray.

The (often immense) level of detail involved in making scale model dioramas led nicely into another branch of modelling – TRAINS!

A shot of Mike Danneman’s exquisite N scale Colorado layout.
Made even more amazing by the fact those locomotives are all less than 10cm long, and the entire layout is an L shape measuring only 5’x7′ and 3’wide

In the 90’s I discovered model trains through a cousin who collected HO scale steam locomotives.

In 1992 I found a Model Railroader magazine at the bookshop a couple doors down from the bike shop / model dealer and was henceforth hooked on that too!

Whole basement, nay, HOUSE-SIZED train layouts!

Model diesel locomotives towing dozens of ore car hoppers and log cars!

Railroads weaving over, around and through Colorado mountain ranges, valleys and rivers, shrunken down and represented in miniature, exquisite detail in the space of a six foot by six foot corner layout!

There was only one problem – Model railroading is rather (read “VERY”) expensive, so my tiny train ventures have largely been much smaller and slower, as time and finances permitted, than with the planes and tanks.

I branched out even more, diversifying into making model cars and trucks. When I started working for a forestry company I built a model logging truck!

The problem with using European models to replicate New Zealand logging trucks, is that the original European “rigs” usually only have single steering and driving axles – perfect for the largely flat, straight motorways and Autobahn of Western Europe, while their New Zealand equivalents have to negotiate steep terrain and sharp corners, requiring twin drive and twin steer axles. This meant buying two of the same kitset and “Kitbashing” them – Cutting the front and real axles off one kitset’s chassis and glueing them “seamlessly” onto the front and rear of the other complete chassis, so i wemt from having two kitsets that looked like THIS to one finished model that looked like THIS:

Like many modellers family takes over for a while and while the production line slows or ceases, the kitset collection continues to grow exponentially.

For me that was when our daughter came along and we bought our first home – What little free time I had evaporated for a while.

When I did have time to model I started putting a lot more work, concentration and detail into the models I made. They became specialised projects, like the Valentine tank I built to honour my Dad driving them during his Compulsory Military Training service.

This is a 1/48 scale Valentine tank I built earlier this year.
My Dad drove them as part of his Compulsory Military Training in the 1950’s, so I built it to honour his memory and service.

As our daughter got older it gave me more time to go back into this more detailed modelling.

But before long the pitter-patter of little feet followed me out to the shed to see what I was doing and ask if she could help.

How could I refuse?

Another generation of modeller might just have been created! 🙂

All the Small Things

I’ve had to deal with a lot of big issues recently, so whenever I could I’ve tried to get away from the heavier stuff and focus on lighter, funner things.

I needed a hero. I was holding out for a Pint Sized Hero.

Most famous for their “Pop Vinyls” – one of the many other pop culture goodies Funko, based in Seattle, Washington USA make are these “Pint Sized Heroes

Standing at a grand 4-5cm high the Pint Size Heroes (or, “PSH”) are far more compact than their bigger 10cm high Pop! partners, but just a neat.

With a growing range of figures now including comic book, movie, TV, gaming and other themes, I have taken a shine to the DC and Marvel cinematic universe characters.

Part of the attraction of the PSH’s is they are sold as what is called “Blind Bags” – Like the “Lucky Dips” of our youth, you can never be sure of what you get. So it’s a pleasant surprise when you open the packet and get the Batman, or Back to the Future PSH you were after.

If it’s one you don’t want, or already have there are now numerous groups on social media to buy, sell and swap “duplicates”.

I like setting my PSHs up in dioramas and scenes. Funko hosts a regular “Pint Size Hero Happy Hour” – #PSHHappyHour on Twitter and people are always finding new, inventive and creative ways of presenting their figures.

They’re lots of fun and bring back some great memories of happier, younger days, so these Pint Sized Heroes have often rescued me from modern day worries
with an uplifting distraction recently.

*The preceding wasn’t a paid advertisement – I bought all items over the last year or so for myself. But if anyone DOES want to supply me with free Funko goodies I wouldn’t mind!*

Miss You Mum

Oh, Solo Me-oh

As I mentioned on RNZ’s The Panel this week, it’s six months since my Mum passed away. She was 78.

With Dad passing away four years ago, I guess that makes me an orphan.

I had gotten up early on a Sunday morning when I noticed there was a message on our phone.

It was the rest home with “a bit of bad news, sorry”.

When I got back to the bedroom and, shaking a little and with tears in my eyes, told my wife and our daughter, who had woken me with her climbing into the bed, “Mum’s died” little Miss Napierinframe immediately curled up in a ball and started to cry.

I put my tears aside as we calmed and hugged her and a general numbness settled over me.

I’m not sure that feeling has completely left all this time later.

While her cause of death is listed as “dementia”, I feel there was more to it.

While it wasn’t diagnosed for years, Mum had lived with depression for some time.

She had some tough times in her life, but the last few years had been especially hard.

While my Mum clinically died early on a Sunday morning, she had stopped “living” many years ago.

Never Forgiven, Never Forgotten.

The youngest of three children, from what Mum told us it sounded like she was the runt of the litter – or at least treated like it.

She said she was born with a tongue tie. making her very early life a harder than usual and she was apparently an unhappy baby – This was in the early 1940’s and medical techniques weren’t up modern levels, so it wasn’t until a year or so later that it was operated on and the problem cured.

She told us later in life she overheard her mum telling her sister that she would “never forgive (Mum) for what she put her through” as a baby.

That’s pretty cold and crappy.

The relationship she had with her family, particularly her sister, made me glad I was an only chid.

We would visit them, or they would visit us. It would all seem to start off well, but almost always end in tears.
My Aunt always seemed to act or feel superior to Mum, and Mum always felt inferior.

Visits with her brother, my uncle, and his family went far better. Reading some of the letters he sent her he certainly seemed to care about her far more than the others and was concerned about how she was treated and how that made her feel, but I fear the damage was already done.

My Granddad sounded nice. He was kind and supportive of Mum, but he died before I was born, so I never got to know or meet him.

Real ACTUAL Housewives – Not Those TV Phoneys

Mum was born in Napier, but her family moved up to Gisborne for Granddad’s work where she stayed until leaving school. She moved back to Napier and stayed with her Aunties/Uncles which is where she met my dad, who was living down the road from one of her relatives.

During this time she worked as a receptionist for the Ministry of Transport and then at a local GP’s (Dr Ellum) practice.

Working for a doctor seemed to have some sort of long-lasting effect on Mum, as she would develop an almost pathological fear of doctors and hospitals later in life.

Mum’s parents moved back down here too eventually. They lived in the big, green house with the long, slanted roof you have probably absent-mindedly gazed at while stopped at the Kennedy Road / Georges Drive lights in Marewa if you’re driving into town along Kennedy Road.

After dating for a mere 14 years Mum and Dad were married and I came along about a year later.

Mum dedicated herself to being a housewife.

She was from the old school era where the woman stayed at home, looked after the house and child(ren), did all the cooking and cleaning etc.

Promoting such a lifestyle would be heresy to many now, but Mum seemed to like it.

I am probably one of the only teenagers in the history of the world to be told off for doing my own washing!

One day, trying to be independent while Mum and Dad where out, I bunged my dirty clothes in the washing machine, chucked in the correct amount of Persil and hit “Start”.

Nothing exploded, no one was harmed and when the wash cycle finished I put them out on the line to dry.

When Mum came home and saw there was washing on the line that she hadn’t done she went spare at me!

Apparently the washing was HER territory and I had done it all wrong.

Mum had a particular (peculiar) method that involved two to three rinse cycles for each wash. To be fair, the clothes never stunk of washing powder like the ones I washed did, but I felt the repetition wasted time, water and electricity.

Only and Lonely

Mum always seemed quite insular.

She never had many friends. Most of the people we went to visit were relatives – usually Great Aunts and the like. This could, relatives being relatives, be a bit of a hit-and-miss affair and often open old wounds for Mum.

She had few close friends, I remember one passed away some time ago when the word “cancer” was still quite foreign.

She never had a drivers licence or drove, so was constricted in mobility until Dad came home from work.

Not All Scars Are Visible

While the on-going emotional pain at how she was treated by her relatives was evident for quite some time, Dad and I really started to worry about Mum the first time she had to go down to Lower Hutt to have some skin cancers removed around 2005.

She was petrified of going to the doctor which, as noted before, was a bit odd – having worked as a receptionist for one for many years – She had become a big fan of homeopathy and trying alternative cures that avoided the medical system wherever possible.

So it was a struggle to get her to agree to be taken down to Lower Hutt Hospital, be admitted for surgery to have several reasonably sized, but benign cancers removed and spend a few days in the ward recovering.

She was convinced she was never going to get out of the hospital, or be stuck in there for weeks.
We thought she might have been going senile and spent a fair bit of time at her bedside trying to convince her everything was fine and we would be home soon.

We ended up being down there for just under a week – only a day longer than expected and she seemed to recover quickly.

There were another couple trips down to Lower Hutt in the following years that we made without major event or fanfare.

While I too had to go down to Lower Hutt for similar procedures and didn’t mind the scars – I already considered myself ugly, so it could only get better – I think Mum never quite got over how the skin cancers or surgery affected her appearance.

I think it is because she was of an era where appearance probably mattered more, so the more BCCs she had removed, the more she removed herself from public view.

She became very hermitised. It was a struggle for Dad to get her out of the house.

When their granddaughter was born, Dad would find any excuse to drop by and see his “Little Angel”, while mum would make any excuse not to.

When I came to take her out to appointments, events, or even to the shops it was always “too cold”, or “too hot”, or “too wet”, or she “just didn’t feel up to it”.

I lost count of how many birthday parties or other special times she missed out on.

It ruined the day for me on several occasions, because these were supposed to be “family events”.

This really annoyed both Dad and myself.

It annoyed me that Mum wouldn’t (or couldn’t?) motivate herself enough to get out and do things.

It also annoyed me that I couldn’t understand how or why.

It put a lot of pressure on Dad, too, whose health hadn’t been the best at the time either.

Darkest Days

When Dad had ended up in the Intensive Care Unit of Hawke’s Bay Hospital with pneumonia, it had been all a bit too much for Mum.

She attempted suicide.

I came over to take her out to see Dad in the hospital (he was fine and recovering in a ward by then) and ended up taking her out there to the Emergency Department, too.

She said she was sorry, was fine now and would never do that again, despite Dad telling me later she had tried it at least two other times.

I can’t remember how I felt, but I do remember leaving her in an ED cubicle talking with the Psych staff, while I went to see Dad and pretended that Mum was just at home and everything was fine. I feared the shock of such a thing might finish him off and I didn’t want to lose them both.

But I would, all too soon.

When Dad died about a year later I stayed with Mum for a few nights to make sure she was as OK as she could be and visited as often as I could, but with a young family this was increasingly hard.

Aside from the care workers who visited (and eventually all got annoyed at how Mum wouldn’t let them help around the house) and visits from her closest long-time friend (the two of them were in McHardy Maternity Home together just before it closed, with her friend’s twins born the day after me), Mum’s isolation and hermitisation only worsened – she seldom left her bedroom – preferring to sleep, or hide away her days.

I talked to this friend later on and she admitted that in the 40 years they knew each other she had never seem more of Mum and Dad’s house than the kitchen – Where Mum entertained her guests, with the hallway door usually closed tightly behind her.

It became blatantly clear Mum wasn’t looking after herself and after a long fight I eventually got her into a rest home and proper care.

Cleaning out the family home after this posed its own logistical, financial and emotional challenges.

And when I ended up in the Coronary Care Unit of Hawke’s Bay Hospital, awaiting transfer to Wellington Hospital’s Heart Unit, I called Mum to tell her what was going on. But I played the whole thing down – Worried how she would react, or carry on if I didn’t make it back.

Fear Itself

I don’t know what of, or why, but Mum appeared to live in fear for the last few years of her life.

She would, on occasions, constantly mutter ”I’m absolutely terrified”, or something similar to herself. I think it was supposed to be an inner monologue but, as she had lost a fair bit of her hearing, she was unaware she was saying it loud enough for me to hear when I sat near her.

When I asked what she was afraid of, or what she was saying, she denied saying anything, or wouldn’t elaborate.

Fading Away

Ultimately, Mum just gave up on living.

Whether she just wanted to be with Dad again, or if it was something else, I’ll never know.

Even in the rest home she mainly just kept to her room. Getting her to appointments was still a struggle and she didn’t interact much with other residents.

Around the time of her wedding anniversary Mum suddenly became quite ill. She recovered enough for my wife, daughter and I to have lunch with her at the rest home’s family Christmas lunch.

But then she went down-hill again soon after – I thought we were going to lose her in the lead up to, if not at Christmas, but she again seemed to improve a little, before one last decline.

I would go to see her every few days, but she would always be in bed asleep. The last time saw her alive I thought she looked so peaceful I didn’t want to disturb her, so I didn’t.

She died a few days later.

Even in death she didn’t get much of a break. A few weeks before her passing Mum’s GP called me to apologise for not being in touch more often. They hadn’t been able to find any obvious reason for Mum’s illness and sudden downturn, but would run more tests. I don’t know if they did, but by that stage it likely wouldn’t have made any difference.

The day she passed away her GP was on holiday, so he couldn’t attend. It wasn’t until early afternoon that the on-call GP could get to the rest home and sign the relative documents, some 12 to 14 hours after she died.

Not knowing Mum personally he sighted “Dementia” as Mum’s cause of death.

When I asked about getting an autopsy or something similar to find out just what had happened to Mum, I was told her GP being on holiday meant they wouldn’t be able to get authorisation for that for another week or so. And they were confident enough it was dementia.

I had to take their word for it.

Mum had left strict instructions in her will for a prompt cremation, which I followed. If there was an ulterior cause, or whatever the reason for her sudden decline was, we will never know.

But I DID go against one of Mum’s wishes by having a public funeral for her.

She wanted to be gone and buried before anyone knew. I couldn’t stand the thought of that.

Along with friends, neighbors and relations, a lady who was receptionist to the GP next door to hers all those years ago came to pay her respects and spoke fondly of Mum.

I don’t think Mum realised so many people actually cared about her.

Mixed Signals?

Like I said, While the attending GP wrote Mum’s cause of death as “Dementia”, I’m not so certain

Because depression often has similar symptoms to dementia:

They can even sometimes be confused.

And depression is not uncommon in those with dementia, as the awareness of losing control of your “true” self must be overwhelming and devastating.

As New Zealand’s aging population increases, this will only become a bigger health issue.

While she still seemed quite lucid, I think Mum just gave up on life after my Dad died four years ago.

It’s been a struggle for me to comprehend why, or how, as I got Dad’s sense of positivity or hope (“Hope” was also his middle name) which keeps driving me forward.

Sadly she lost that, or possibly never had it.

Whatever the actual cause of her death was, or why she was felt so tormented for so long, I just hope she’s happy wherever she is.

As I sat on the tailgate of my car the morning of Mum’s death, texting and calling friends and relations to let them know of her passing I happened to look up and see two white doves fly past.

The cynic in me said it was just two pigeon interlopers returning to their roosts in the giant phoenix palm tree down the road.

Another part of me said “No, It’s Mum and Dad, together again and free at last”.

Love you, Mum!

Break the silence – WHERE TO GET HELP:

Rural Support Trust ph 0800 787 254

Lifeline: Ph 0800 543 354 (available 24/7).

Suicide Crisis Helpline: Ph 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO), available 24/7.

Youthline: Ph 0800 376 633.

Kidsline: Ph 0800 543 754 (available 24/7).

Whatsup: Ph 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm).

Depression helpline: Ph 0800 111 757 (available 24/7).

Rainbow Youth: Ph (09) 376 4155.

Samaritans: Ph 0800 726 666.

Adulting Sux

I think I’d like to give up adulting for a while.

Turn on the TV, radio, read the newspapers or surf online and you’ll struggle to avoid prime time examples of racism, sexism, sectarianism, greed, stupidity and people just being general dicks to each other.

Even the presenters themselves – Positions that used to be the bastion of straight-forward news and current affairs delivery are not immune from this.

I can think of several who appear to be actively enabled, if not impressively incentivised to be “controversial”. And they’re given the full gamut of their employers’ television, radio, web and even good old analogue newspaper formats to say stupid and mean things just to attract attention, clicks and “Likes”.

It really is pathetic.

I’m pretty certain Dougal Stevenson and Philip Sherry would thump you if you told them to act like that back in their heyday.

Don’t make Phillip Sherry angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry..

It’s all pretty depressing.

I’d say it’s childish, but I feel that would be a grave insult to children everywhere.

My own daughter, for example, will turn five later this year.

She’s brilliant – She’s kind, caring and compassionate – All the things that so much of the world isn’t! This may or may not have something to do with the fact that we have largely kept her away from the news and traditional forms of media.

6pm – Traditional “News Time” is TV/device off time in our house, followed by playing / reading and her bed time. We usually don’t turn the TV or phones on again until after 7pm.

Some might call us “Snowflakes” or say this is “Virtue Signalling”, but I prefer my daughter to grow up with empathy, rather than being a sociopath.

When other adults or managers/bosses are getting me down I find picking my daughter up from Kindy to be an intellectual and spiritual lift.

Just the other day her kindergarten celebrated Peruvian Independence Day (one of the teachers is from there and very proud of her home country).

Children and their parents from Pakeha, Maori, Indian, French, Chinese, Japanese and many other cultures all celebrated this teacher’s homeland together.

It was glorious!

There was singing, dancing, food and fun – It was caring and inclusive – All things that life should be!

This is where I hold out hope for the future, because this is normality for our children.

Our children will live in a society where their friends will be all sorts of colours, sizes and shapes.

Their favourite foods won’t just be the rather bland NZ cuisine I grew up with in the 80’s, but from all around the globe – An exotic range of flavours us adults are only just learning about.

It won’t matter whether they have mum and dad at home, just mum or just dad, two mums, two dads, grandparents or other relatives, so long as they have a home where they are safe and loved.

This will be their normal.

This is something to strive towards.

I think we have a lot to learn from our children.

We should be taking more notice of them and less of those provocative, attention-seeking adults in the media.

Creating a Buzz

Look at me, all pictorial and glossy!

Sorry I haven’t been writing on here as much as I used to.

I would LIKE to, but work, earning a living and daily life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of creative pursuits.

I have still been writing, though.

In Hawke’s Bay we have a bi-monthly magazine called “Bay Buzz”. It started out life ten years ago in an online format and slowly progressed over the past decade into this quite marvellous, glossy publication.

I sent the editor, Tom Belford, a piece I had written and he published it online in November 2008.

It was one of my first forays into writing stuff on and for the interweb.

A year or so later he asked me to write a regular piece, which we called “Man About Town” (not too thematically dissimilar to “Napier in Frame”, really) which I did for about a year, before the need for an income over-shadowed writing and my creative wordsmithing skills returned to their stasis pods, occasionally emerging to point out local wrongs and the bleeding obvious our local mainstream media somehow managed to miss with unnerving regularity via opinion columns and Letters to the Editor.

Five years ago (YES, FIVE!!) I started this site and started writing more regularly again.

A little over a year ago Tom, having seen my site and opinion pieces in the paper, approached me and asked if I’d be interested in writing of Bay Buzz again.

I accepted and the results have been quite good and glossy, with six columns published so far (and a cameo in the upcoming 10th Anniversary edition, too).

While not being paid for my regular columns because they are classed as “opinion” (how this same system doesn’t apply to certain massively monetarily and multimedialy enabled, yet utterly asinine ‘opinionist’ radio and TV presenters, I don’t know.. ), I am getting more recognition.

I have been stopped in the street a number of times by people telling me they saw me in the magazine and liked my writing, which is pretty cool – I’m not used to praise!

It’s also good to see a Hawke’s Bay publisher footing it with the “big city” type(face)s – A couple of people have said Bay Buzz is like, if not better than, (because of its local focus) the likes of North and South magazine (the Wellington equivalent of Auckland’s Metro – High praise indeed!

I will do my best to post on here more often – I’m due back on Radio New Zealand’s “The Panel” next week and I have two other posts in the works, so material is seldom in short supply – it’s more a matter of available time.

Perhaps if RNZ+, or their regional expansions were to headhunt me, I could even do it for a living!?