The Bird Was the Word

Caroll Spinney died on Sunday
You might not recognise the name, but you will certainly recognise his alter-egos:
An eight-foot-tall, bright yellow bird, and a green, furry Grouch who lived in a trash can.
Caroll was the pupeteer behind two of Sesame Street’s first, and most iconic characters – Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.
Named “Caroll” by his mum, because he was born on Boxing Day 1933, Spinney first met Jim Henson at a puppeting festival in 1962.
They met again at the next festival, but due to a technical hitch with the lighting his performance did not go according to plan and Caroll was very dissappointed, but Henson saw potential and asked if he would like to “talk about the Muppets“.
Spinney joined the puppeting cast of Sesame Street for their first season in 1969 and  officially retired after voicing a few pieces earlier this year after being part of Sesame Street for FIFTY YEARS!
While still “Big”, Big Bird’s head was not so full-some of feathers in the first season and Oscar the Grouch was actually orange, not green! These features would change soon afterwards.

Launched in 1969 by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett one of the things that made so many people love Sesame Street has been its cast centrally featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets, puppets and Monsters.

Often zany and silly but never condescending to its young audience, Sesame Street has become the inspiration and benchmark by which many people judge not only children’s television, but all television since.

While teaching pre-school basics like the alphabet, counting, colours and opposites, it also deals with making friends, manners, feelings and other important social and personal issues.

Spinney’s Big Bird acted as the viewers conduit into the world of Sesame Street – While 8′ tall and feathered he still had the eyes, inquisitiveness and wonderment of a child – the show’s target audience.

Big Bird was often the one dealing with big issues – One particular Sesame Street piece has burned itself into my memory (have a box of tissues handy):

When Will Lee, who played shopkeeper “Mr Hooper” (“Hooper’s Store” still bears his name as a memorial) died in 1982, rather than recasting the role, or saying Hooper moved away or retired, Sesame Street’s producers decided to deal with the issue head-on and created an episode that taught their young audience about the difficult topic of death in an honest and straightforward way.

I would have been five when the episode originally aired and some of my earliest memories are of going to the funerals of elderly grandparents and relatives, while not fully understanding what was going on.

That episode made things much clearer and easier to understand.

I cried watching it.

I still cry watching it today.

I wasn’t the only one – Legend has it the piece was shot in one take and there wasn’t a dry eye in the entire studio, in front of or behind the cameras, once it was done.

The antithesis to Big Bird’s wide-eyed Pollyanna, was Oscar the Grouch.

Always grumpy, curmudgeony and liking the opposite of everything everyone else on Sesame Street liked, it was fitting that Spinney played him, too – the tragedy to the comedy, the cloud to every silver lining.

But what Oscar did was show it was OK to be different – everyone accepted him, despite his grouchyness.

One of the first gifts my now wife got for me when we started dating was Spinney’s book The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers. I read the entire book the night she gave it to me.

Jim Henson’s work and his creations blossomed from Sesame Street, as did the world’s love for them.

When Henson died in 1990, leaving behind a legacy of Muppets, movies, Fraggles, Sesame Street and many other beloved shows all his creations got together for one last show called “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson”.

Whilst the special centred around Henson’s other most well-known creation – “The Muppet Show” for the finale – a song called “Just One Person” almost all his creations appeared to sing a gorgeous eulogy to the great man, the amazing talent from where they came.

I cried watching that too, because being an only child, television had been one of my biggest inspirations and windows on the world before I started school.

The Muppets, Fraggles and Sesame Street characters had become more than just puppets to me – they were MY FRIENDS.

I saw what Henson  and his Muppeteers could do on multiple levels – Not just cute, fluffy, talking toys, but almost sentient beings with a drive behind them – to teach, to care, to love.

I believed in them.

I saw myself in Big Bird, too – I was that same tall, gangly, wide-eyed kid with that same enthusiasm and inquisitiveness for everything, always asking questions – albeit thousands of miles away from a street in New York.

Like me, he was taller than everyone else, but they accepted him for who he was, and he accepted them.

In a roundabout way it made utter sense that Spinney, as Big Bird, sang “(It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green” at Henson’s memorial service:

I never had the Bird’s penchant for rollerskating, though.

This feat was made ever more impressive / crazy, by the fact that Spinney COULDN’T SEE OUT OF THE BIG BIRD COSTUME!

Image result for big bird rollerskating gif

While he had one hand stuck straight up in the air to operate the bird’s head, mouth and eyes, Spinney got his vision from a small TV monitor strapped to his chest and got his references from the TV cameras viewing him’s perspective – working blind and/or backwards effectively!

Image result for big bird suit.

Big Bird almost didn’t make it to Sesame Street’s 50th season – He was initially meant to be on the disasterous 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle mission!
NASA had been in talks with Sesame Street to have Spinney record some segments on board the shuttle to teach children about space, but the costume’s sheer bulk in the small confines of the space ship inevitably, and fortunately, saw the idea canned.
Big Bird and Oscar will, naturally, continue to exist on Sesame Street, played by Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson respectively (Vogel was Spinney’s understudy for the bird for almost 20 years!), but today is a sad day for generations of youngsters-at-heart around the world who grew up with Big Bird and Oscar, as another original member of The Muppets passes on.
Thank you Caroll.
You taught me it was OK to be tall and different, and inquisitive. But it was also important to be kind and caring. 
And that it was OK to be grumpy, and cantankerous sometimes, too.
I hope I can live my life to the standards your feathered and furry personas set.
AF

A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay: Part Two

“A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

It used to be a term of snide derision.

The moniker for any unidentified person in the society photo section of Auckland’s Metro magazine in the 80s.

Whether they had their back turned, or were wearing a lampshade, they were “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

Some in our region may have even aspired to it, but not many.

Certainly not me.

Yet, over recent months I have been an actual “Visitor from Hawke’s Bay” to Auckland several times, on account of surgery I needed to undergo that could only be done in the city.

Rather than the local tourism board paying for my visit and lavishing me with luxury accomodation and gourmet food as Hawke’s Bay’s agencies do to visiting Auckland media, the Ministry of Health paid for my return travel and equal nights’ accomodation in both motel and hospital beds, and I had to hunt and gather my own food, except when my kind social media friends shouted me a coffee or lunch. (Disclosure statement ends.)

Planes, Trains, Ferries and Lime Scooters

A little over a month after my last trip to Auckland I am waiting at Hawke’s Bay Airport for the flight which will take me up for my operation in two days time to arrive. Strong cross-winds have seen the in-bound flight delayed and diverted to Palmerston North, with the plane eventually arriving in Napier two hours late.

It could be worse. Those on the flight from Auckland all had to disembark in Palmerston North and are being bussed up to Hawke’s Bay.

There’s always someone out there worse off than you are.

The flight to Auckland is smooth and far quicker than my previous commute.

I spend most of the trip with my head plastered to the window. While I’m almost 42, the “magic” of flight still fascinates me and I eagerly soak in the airborne views of our magnificent country – Forestry operations in the central North Island, glistening lakes and rivers and even the Firth of Thames and Coromandel Peninsula are all things I get to see far too infrequently.

I am due to be admitted to hospital for two nights, one either side of my operation, but before that I have a night in a motel equidistant between downtown Newmarket and Auckland’s Central Hospital.

As I ride there on an airport shuttle I become very aware of just how many cars there are in Auckland.

They are EVERYWHERE!

You get an idea of just how bad vehicle congestion could get in the city when you see the sheer volume of cars lining residential streets. They almost out-number fallen leaves on the more arbourous thoroughfares.

It’s strikingly evident that when/if the Zombie Apocalypse strikes it would be only the cockroaches and cars that remain in Auckland.

My accomodation is on the lower northern slopes of Mount Eden – a Maunga I had intended to summit on my last trip, before car trouble scuttled the attempt.

A look at the nearby clouds and realisation that I forgot my jacket scupper any thoughts of doing it on this occasion either, so I head in towards Newmarket as raindrops begin to fall.

After a couple laps of Broadway I have run out of things to see or do and with no supermarket nearby I hop on a train and head into the CBD.

I do some browsing and pick up a few bargains and some dinner along High Street and its lanes, including another trip to Krispy Kreme (for dessert), before searching out a supermarket.

My search takes me through the recently developed area around Britomart, which I have to say is quite stunning! Old and new seamlessly meld together for offices, restaurants and shops.

I wander back along the waterfront and catch a train back to Newmarket, walking back to my hotel past a wide range of asian eateries.

While waiting for a crossing light I absently look in the window of one restaurant and watch a young pakeha woman teaching her children how to use chopsticks.

Fusion cuisine AND fusion people!

I also feel a little homesick for a moment.

The next morning I am up and out early to see a man about a Travelator.

Yet another train ride reveals some odd train etiquette – Despite the train being quite full of early morning commuters, no one ever talks to, or looks directly anyone else! This is quite a challenge for someone like me who is usually quite chatty and inquisitive, but apparently its “a thing” all over the train-commuting world.

I get off the train at Britomart, cross the road and hop on a ferry to Devonport, to meet David Slack – another long-time (well, by Twitter standards) friend, who takes me for a tour around his neighbourhood and up his maunga – Mount Victoria – something I have been wanting to do again since I climbed it early one morning while on a course in Auckland a decade and a half ago.

A Man About a Travelator and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay

David is marvelous company. We have coffee and chat at a village cafe after exploring Devonport and viewing its surrounds, then I must start heading towards the hospital.

The ferry ride to Devonport and back is great fun too – After my tachycardia episode I have taken greater pleasure in the little things like viewing things from different perspectives – Whether it be from the air or the sea they are fun experiences.

From the ferry building I slowly make my way up Queen Street, aiming to be at the hospital at my check in time of 2pm.

A Hospitable Host and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay

I stop here and there to get gifts for my wife and daughter, before meeting another Twitter friend, Mark Graham, who has kindly offered to buy me lunch at “The Kimchi Project” – an smart, narrow “Asian Fusion” restaurant on Lorne Street with a great big garden bar out the back.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have been very fortunate to meet some great people on social media. When used correctly and kindly, as it should be, it really is a SOCIAL media!

I thank Mark and make my way to the hospital after eventually realising the “north and south” of my Google map does not necessarily equate to what passes as the M.C. Escher-esque reality of Auckland geography.

I cross Grafton Bridge on foot and make it to my ward for admission right on time.

My visits to Auckland have coincided with the boom of Lime E Scooters in the city. It is as impossible to miss coverage of the new mobility devices as it is to miss the scooters themselves.

You regularly see people riding past on them, but even more often see clusters of them on footpaths, awaiting their next hire.

I would have been more likely to give one a try were it not for the number of reported incidents and injuries involving them.

I’m already going to hospital for an operation. I don’t fancy a side-trip to the Emergency Department!

I stick to walking.

After some preliminary admission tests I am given licence to wander off until tea time, so, seeing the Auckland Domain and the War Memorial Museum beside the hospital I decide to go for a stroll through there.

On my stroll I find myself overcome with emotion.

When I was young I had an unusually large head for a child and we were sent up to Auckland Hospital for an MRI scan (apparently my head knew I would grow to be 6’8″ before the rest of me did and was merely getting the jump on things).

I clearly remember playing with one of those cheap 80s pull-cord plastic helicopters on a hill in The Domain with Mum and Dad (it must have been in between a scan and seeing the doctor about the results).

As I crest one of The Domain’s hills (likely the very one we flew the pull-cord helicopter on) I have a quiet moment & cry thinking of Mum and Dad, who are no longer with me.

While recovering from my operation the next day I have time to reflect on my recent experiences of Auckland as A Visitor from Hawke’s Bay.

Welcome Home

Auckland is a marvelously, multicultural city!

Middle eastern and African teenagers have served me American fast food. I ate at a Korean restaurant, was operated on by a Indian surgeon and a Sri Lankan anaesthesiologist, both of whom had “Oxbridge” accents, and the night after my operation I fell asleep listening to a sweet old lady praying in Tongan.

A week or so after my operation some perennially privileged, pathetic pakeha politician trys to make some sort of inference in mainstream media about who are “real New Zealanders” and who aren’t.

This is our country and these are all our people. We are all kind, caring, compassionate kiwis!

The “JAFFA” is Dead

With more modern, inclusive times upon us, it’s reasonable to say the term “JAF(F)A”, an acronym for “Just Another F***ing Aucklander”, is dead.

To be fair, it was usually used as a parochial term for the “small fish, big pond” sort of person who moved from Auckland to regional New Zealand to try and assert the authority they felt they lacked in the big city upon provincial plebs. So maybe not as applicable to Aucklanders on their home turf.

It is (or was) the antithesis of “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”.

Everyone I encountered in Auckland was polite, kind and considerate, no matter their race, sex, or National Provincial Championship rugby affiliation. I would gladly see the back of its use, and that of similar terms.

 

I’ll see You Again, When the Stars Fall From the Sky..

A few weeks later I am back at Greenlane for a post-op check-up.

Flown there and back in a day it is probably the closest I have gotten to being a jet-setting-corporate-business-commuter-type.

With a couple hours to spare either side of my appointment between arrival and departure I get to do some more exploring.

Still unable to get up Mount Eden (next time!) through a lack of logistics (maybe those Lime Scotters aren’t such a bad idea after all..) I take a stroll through Cornwall Park and mount Maungakiekie, One Tree Hill.

The view is spectacular – Literally a 360 degree view of Auckland!

 

 

It also brings into stark relief another issue Auckland has – Space and housing.

 

There is only so much land to occupy on the Auckland isthmus and from my viewing spot it looks pretty much all occupied.

While many suburban Aucklanders seem quite averse to multi-story townhouses and appartments in their leafy streets, it would appear, as 80s band Yazz sang, that “The Only Way is Up!” to ease this problem.

This could have been solved earlier, of course, had previous governments and corporate Auckland just spread some economic love and shifted more business to regions like Hawke’s Bay!

I head back to Napier a content Visitor From Hawke’s Bay.

Auckland is a neat city with lots of diversity, but also a few issues.

As with most problems, though, I’m sure those issues could be resolved with help from, or by listening to others like regional New Zealand.

As I board my flight home I notice something that Paul Brislen picks up on via Twitter a few weeks later.

While the snide side of “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”, just like “JAFFA”, is well past its used by date, there is something a large number of those bound for Napier have in common – We have all been “A Visitor to (Auckland Domestic Airport’s) Krispy Kreme“.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity for an alternative nickname (or, at least a new regional franchise) there!

A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay: Part One

To be fair I wasn’t Halfway Down, more like A Quarter Up…

“A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

It used to be a term of snide derision.

The moniker for any unidentified person in the society photo section of Auckland’s Metro magazine in the 80s.

Whether they had their back turned, or were wearing a lampshade, they were “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

Some in our region may have even aspired to it, but not many.

Certainly not me.

Sadly it appears some old habits die hard. Or not at all..

Yet, over recent months I have been an actual “Visitor from Hawke’s Bay” to Auckland several times, on account of surgery I needed to undergo that could only be done in the city.

Rather than the local tourism board paying for my visit and lavishing me with luxury accomodation and gourmet food as Hawke’s Bay’s agencies do to visiting Auckland media, the Ministry of Health paid for my return travel and equal nights’ accomodation in both motel and hospital beds, and I had to hunt and gather my own food, except when my kind social media friends shouted me a coffee or lunch. (Disclosure statement ends.)

So Close, Yet So Far.

The last time I was in Auckland was in 2011 for a Foo Fighters concert at Western Springs.

My wife and I stayed in the centre of town and we were in the city for about the same length of time it took to drive there and back.

It’s not that we didn’t WANT to visit more often, it’s just with IVF, the birth of our daughter, buying our first home, the death of my Dad, my month-long government-funded stay in Wellington, and the death of my Mum all coming hot on the heels of that concert trip, we simply hadn’t had the time or opportunity to go back to Auckland.

So, odd as it may sound, I was looking forward to this operation. As it gave me an opportunity to have a nosey around!

There and Back Again: A Hawke’s Bayite’s Tale

My first expedition for a pre-op appointment and assesment was by road.

Leaving Napier at O-Dark-Hundred I cross the fabled Napier-Taupo road in a mixture of bright, full, moonlight for the most part and pea-soup fog in the middle section around Lochinvar Station.

It isn’t until I am deep into the Waikato region that the sun starts to make an appearance.

And what an appearance it is!

A pink and purple pastoral panorama unfolds around me as the early morning hues illuminate rolling dairy country. Patches of mist lie in valleys and green grass glistens in the gloaming.

It’s the sort of view giant dairy cooperatives pay advertising firms millions of dollars to try and replicate on clogged, polluted urban motorway billboards.

I somehow manage to drive non-stop to Hamilton, where stomach and lower portions dictate I need to take a break for breakfast, stretch and a rest-stop at around 8am.

New Zealand’s state highways and roads really are a story of thirds.

One third is perfectly fine, one third is roadworks and the final third is utter rubbish and SHOULD be roadworks.

I drive the fastest I have ever been legally allowed to drive on the Cambridge Expressway – 110km/h!

The only thing is with that section of road being several hundred meters across, with multiple lanes and (almost) everyone else doing the same speed, you might as well be doing 50km/h – there is no sense of the added “Oomph!” that 10km/h would otherwise bring.

You also still get passed by Audis and Hiluxes regardless of the speed limit, so very little changes, really.

You quickly reel in those who have overtaken you anyway, as further roadworks and rush-hour traffic grind everyone down to a crawl past Mystery Creek.

Having spent the last few hours driving so smoothly and freely, we are now packed together so tightly I can see the irony dripping from their exhaust pipes.

Aside from some stunning native bush views along the northern Waikato River trying to draw your attention away from the road and task at hand, the rather deafening sound of cicadas in river-side pine plantations along State Highway One is quite distracting.

Before you realise what the noise actually is you fear something is going wrong with your car.

Sadly something DID go wrong with my car on this trip once I arrived in Auckland.

The exertion and heat of the almost non-stop trip up made my transmission somewhat fiddly upon starting, so I limited my movements in the hope I would be able to get home in one automotive piece.

Close encounters of the Twitter kind! Paul Brislen and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay.

Never the less I do manage to meet up with fellow Twitterer, technology commentator and pop culture fan Paul Brislen in person for coffee at a swanky Mount Eden Village cafe and pick up a present for my daughter from the equally Twitter renowned Time Out Bookstore.

The appointment with my doctor at the Greenlane Medical Centre goes much better and quicker than planned, and the picturesque view of Maungakiekie – “One Tree Hill” (right behind the hospital) out his office’s windows cheers me up, so I decide to go into town.

This is where the logistics of Auckland traffic come into play.

Greenlane is, in the grand Auckland scheme of things, very “central”. You are kind of in the middle of, well, everything!

This does, however, mean it can take a while to get everywhere.

With my car recuperating at my nearby motel, I decide to test out Auckland’s public transport system and catch a bus into the CBD, do some sightseeing and drop some copies of the magazine I write for, “Baybuzz”, to some of my big-city media friends.

The fare is reasonable and the ride is comfortable, but there is only one issue – the other bazillion vehicles on the road! (I did, unwisely it appears, choose to travel at 4pm in the afternoon..).

What “should” have been about a 15 minute commute takes over half an hour and I get into the CBD just as most of its workers are heading in the opposite direction.

While in Auckland I decide to sample some of the city’s haute cuisine that is unavailable in regional New Zealand – Namely Krispy Kreme Donuts and Wendy’s Burgers!

“No Regerts!!”

After taking in central Auckland for about an hour the day’s driving and events catch up with me and I find myself rather exhausted, sitting outside Britomart without the energy or will to traipse back to the bus stop I arrived from at The Civic Theatre.

I decide to take the train back to Greenlane (have I mentioned before that I think trains are awesome?!).

The train trip takes a mere ten minutes, if that, and another short bus ride delivers me to the door of my accomodation for the night and soon after I am enveloped by the arms of Morpheus.

“I’ll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky,
And the moon turns red,
Over One Tree Hill.”

H.G. Wells, Huka Falls and Home

I wake early the next morning keen to get home, or as far home as possible before any further issues can afflict my car.

At least I THINK I wake.

Merging onto the Southern Motorway in the early hours of the morning is like entering an 80s neon dream.

A river of white, yellow and halogen blue lights stream towards you, as those bound for work in the city make their way in. While ahead, red tail and brake lights form a long, rippling rouge ribbon to the south.

It’s not too disimilar to the “Light Cycle Battle” in the movie Tron (and quite possibly why residents of the next major city in this direction, Hamilton, use the movie’s name as their city’s nickname).

As the motorway heads towards the Bombay Hills the pink and purple tinges of dawn are growing over the horizon.

But also coming over the hills is a scene from “War of the Worlds” – Row upon row of giant power pylons stretch towards the city and motorway.

Not unlike Wells’ giant aliens, these steel quadrapeds actually provide power to the metropolis’ populance, but in the misty glow of dawn they look other-worldly, straddling the red and white streams of light.

Traffic flows freely and smoothly, despite the sheer volume of vehicles that are simultaneously using this small strip of road. The only issue I have is trying to rejoin the flow after pulling over to take the obligitary picture of the Waikato River and Huntly Power Station beyond.

I bypass Hamilton to top up with fuel and grab breakfast to go in Cambridge.

I carry on, eventually stopping at Huka Falls for a walk, where my car decides to play its “lets not start of a while” trick again and in Taupo to take a look at the lake (transiting Taupo so early in the morning on the way up, I had bypassed the town).

The trip back over the Napier-Taupo is far less foggy and dark than the day before and I arrive home in time for a late lunch.

It was a roadtrip I had wanted to do for some time, but now having done it twice in 24 hours with car issues, I think I would prefer to fly next time.

Fortunately they fly you up for operations, which would come around quite quickly.

To Be Continued!

Long Train Runnin’

Daughter in Frame and her “Bestest Friend” wave at friend’s Dad, who drives for Kiwirail

As I have written before, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Miss B has a best friend, Master B (no relation), who she met in Kindy.

As their friendship blossomed, we got to know his parents.

As it turns out Mister B is into model trains, like I am, but the cherry on top was with his job as a driver for Kiwirail, he offered to take me on a ride in the cab of a freight train one day.

This was a dream come true!

I’ve been a train nerd for some time and how can you not be?

I mean, come on, they are SO COOL!

A thousand or so tonnes of steel and cargo, pulled by a thousand-plus horsepower engine, rolling along long, snaking tracks through New Zealand’s gorgeous countryside is appealing to admirers of engineering, physics, environmentally-friendly logistics AND aesthetics!

I had previously travelled on the commuter trains in Wellington and Auckland, but the last time I had been on a train in Hawke’s Bay, was taking the Bay Express down to Wellington in the mid to late 90s, shortly before the passenger service was terminated.

 

A few weeks ago he asked if I was free to go for a ride in the cab of a freight train to Woodville on Waitangi Day.

Was I?

Hells, Yeah!!

He said there was a catch – He would have to pick me up at 4am.

This was no catch – For more than a decade my (non-writing, but paying) job has seen my alarm go off at 3:30am six working days out of ten.

With the excitement of the trip ahead of me I had been waiting outside, staring at the stars, for 15 minutes by the time he arrived to pick me up.

In the cab of DL class locomotive number 9135 we leave the Napier yard not long after 5am and after rumbling through a slumbering central Napier, the throttles are opened and we started out along the Hawke Bay coast and over the Tutikuri and Ngaruroro river bridges at the (appropriately named, given the day) Waitangi Wetlands.

Turning inland at Clive we go through the revitalised industrial and logistical hub of Whakatu before running right through the centre of Hastings.

As we exit Hawke’s Bay’s major urban areas the train doesn’t immediately speed up a whole lot, as rail repairs and recent hot temperatures mean the pace is kept relatively slow in case rails have buckled, or moved in the heat.

But that’s fine, because it’s safer and means I get to take in more of a view few get to see these days.

One thing that stands out is all the cool old stations in places like Opapa and Ormomdville.

Where small settlements were set up around these refueling and watering posts and local produce, goods and livestock would have been loaded and unloaded as little as 40-50 years ago, there are often just the station buildings remaining now.

Crossing the braided Waipawa and Tukituku rivers is also very cool.

.

Occassionally I look out the back window of the engine and watch the train’s wagons snake around curves behind us.

 

After several more hills and bridges, rivers and sidings we reach the Ormondville Rail Viaduct – A rather impressive (and slightly more than impressively high) structure.

For safety’s sake we cross it at 10km/h, but given its height, narrowness, and the fact it is taking the weight of our several-hundred-tonne train (and us) I am quite happy to be safely across it as quickly as practicable.

Not long after that we are heading towards my destination of Woodville.

The train will carry on to Palmerston North, but as I am not qualified/certified to go through the tunnels of the Manawatu Gorge in an engine, I must wait here for the driver to return.

I end up having a decent wander round and seeing lots of little bits of this town many just pass through and, since the closure of the Manawatu Gorge road, many have bypassed altogether.

Today, despite several more empty shops than last time I passed through, the town still seems quite busy – Likely with people on their way to see Phil Collins at Napier’s Mission Concert that night.

As we drive back to Napier I get to reflect on what a great experience this trip had been.

It’s always important to be open to new or different perspectives. Recent events in my life have certainly made this awareness somewhat stronger, and riding in a freight train has certainly been that.

It would be great to see more trains operating in New Zealand again, especially when every wagon represents at least one less truck on already busy and often fast-deteriorating roads.

And, as I stated at the beginning of this piece, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Without Shoe

There are a few things in pop music that really annoy me.

First is the lyric “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” – Which is just lazy gap-filling.

Secondly is the all-to-often-used line “You know what I mean(?)”

NO!

We Don’t!

This is why we are listening to you sing the song – To get your artistic representation of events!

Thirdly is pronunciation, or is that “pronounciation”?

Slurred, or mispronounced lyrics have ruined plenty of good songs.

Take UB40’s cover of the Elvis classic: “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”.

Whether it’s the reggae stylings, the Red, Red Wine, or my New Zealand upbringing, but whenever I hear this song, the lyrics have always sounded a bit slurred and, as a result, the lines:

“Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can’t help falling in love with you.”

Sound TO ME like:

“Wise man say only fools love sheep.
But I can’t help falling in love with ewes.”

Speaking of “You”, this one word has to be one of the most fuddled pronouns around.

“Dew” and “Jew” are only a two of the most common “Eww” sounding “you” replacements.

It’s like the ever-excellent Muppets of Sesame Street’s “Sons of Poetry” parody:

This weekend just gone, however, I heard a new flubulation: “Shoe”!

It got me thinking, and singing to myself.

So much so that I managed to write a few verses of a pretty decent song!

Let me know what you think, as I present to you:

Without Shoe:

Without shoe life is hard to handle,
Like the toe piece torn out of a jandal.

It’s Bob Marley singing without his Wailers.
A Hipster not adorned in worn Chuck Taylors.

Without shoe.

What did that comic say?
When he bought sneakers from his drug dealer, Ray,

“I don’t know what he laced them with,
But I’ve been tripping every day!”

Without shoe.

My tongue feels like leather,
I’m no longer “good as new”.

No stitches can heel or hold me together,
My sole is worn right through.

Without shoe.

Baby I’m Amazed By You

This picture represents everything I love and admire and fear simultaneously in one image.

Our little Miss Napier in Frame isn’t so little any more.

From the emotional trials and tribulations of IVF, to (SPOILER ALERT!) conception and a surprise home birth, to nappies and smiles and giggles. Crawling, talking and walking.

It may only be five years, but it feels like a lifetime!

And not just her’s.

Our little baby, who would only ever fall asleep snuggling in my arms is now a smart & sociable girl riding her bike freely (she demanded we take her training wheels off one Saturday afternoon, immediately started riding perfectly without them and never looked back).

She has truly begun making her own way in the world.

Having learned so much by the age of five in Kindy (she can write her name and numbers, count beyond 100 and speak bits of Spanish and Te Reo – I can’t remember being able to do that at 6!) part of me is convinced that she just becomes an adult now, right?

Nope.

It’s off to school in the next few weeks & into the big, wide, world.

Peer pressure, bullying, body image and boys – All things I can’t always defend her from await, though hopefully in the far-off future for now, at least.

For me Tamatea Primary was the scene and catalyst of some of my most cherished memories.

That’s 10-11 year old me, middle row, second from the left.

An 80s childhood at its best.

I hope her primary school years bring her as much fun, knowledge and friendship as mine brought me.

There are, of course, things I CAN help defend her from.

I go to work each week, not for myself, but to provide a safe, warm, loving home and to ensure there is always food on the table.

(That sounds terribly clichéd, but it’s an honourable, old-school trait I got from my Dad – That said, an enjoyable job where I get to be creative wouldn’t go amiss. I continue to write in the hope that lightning might strike twice…)

Growimg up sometimes a safe, happy, loving home is all you need. I was very fortunate that mine was.

In primary school I remember the teacher telling us there was a hole in something called “The Ozone Layer” and expecting that within the decade we would all have to be walking around in space suits for protection.

That didn’t quite come to fruition, but there are plenty of equally sized, and bigger, environmental threats out there, so I will do my best to keep the world she will inherit as clean and safe as possible.

I will always be there for her.

Even when she doesn’t want me.

When she hurts herself, she currently runs crying to mum for cuddles.

Even when she is having a screaming match with mum, she STILL runs to her for cuddles afterwards (there is a level of logic there FAR beyond my comprehension).

But, possibly hardest of all, I must let her fall and fail  occasionally. To watch her have hopes and dreams dashed. It’s hard, but it will make her stronger.

It “builds character” (another terrible, but true, cliche).

And she already has loads of that – Kindness, caring, love and compassion. All those things too many adults seem to lose as they grow older.

The other day she got her bike out of the garage to ride it around the yard, so I took mine out for the first time in ages, too, and together we went for a ride along the neighborhood cyclepath.

We kept a safe, respectful distance apart, riding along and chatting. Sometimes she was in the lead and sometimes I was. We both occasionally got the wobbles, but it was fun.

I hope as she gets older she will want me to come along on more rides and adventures. To bring picnics and puncture repair kits.

She might even need to bring them for me!

These first five years have been one hell of a ride!

But it’s worth it – She is amazing!

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!*

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!?