Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas Deliciousness: 2016 Edition

For what must be at least a decade now, MrsinFrame has been coming up with a special 12-day menu to celebrate the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.

She alternates each year between the traditional and the New Zealand version, otherwise known as “A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree”.

This year was the Kiwi Christmas Deliciousness Edition.

Most of the dishes have a direct correlation to the songs (Five Big Fat Pigs = Pork/Ham/Bacon), others use a fair chunk of artistic license – I’ll do my best to explain as we go.

This year’s menu plan actually went missing just a few days before we were to begin and resurfaced (albeit too late) on Christmas day (It’s a Christmas miracle!), so while we managed to remember most of the initial dishes, there were a few we made up on the run. As a result there may be a few dishes we re-do and post later on – We’ll let you know!

So sit back and enjoy as I reveal what my true love made for me over the Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas Deliciousness for 2016:

A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree

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Blue Cheese and Spinach Parcels:
The blue of the cheese represents the Pukeko, while spinach represents the foliage and the flaky pastry looks like flakes off like Ponga Tree bark.

Two Kumara

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Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Bake:
While this dish is more common on American Christmas and Thanksgiving tables, we like to mix up our meals a bit and Kumara is a sweet potato, so it was a good fit.

Three Flax Ketes (“Kits”)

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Baked Bread Basket:
Woven flax Kete are used as baskets and bags, so this delicious bread basket filled with feta, spinach, olives tomatoes and prosciutto matched up nicely.

Four Huhu Grubs

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Caramel-filled Éclairs on Chocolate Cake Dirt:
Huhu grubs are a creepy crawly delicacy at most “Wild Food” festivals, mainly for their gooey-squishiness when you bite into them, so filling small éclairs with gooey caramel seemed a wonderful take on the idea.

Five Big Fat Pigs!

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Sloppy Porchettas:
Five big Fat Pigs make a lot of pork mince, While all the vegetables that go into the accompanying giardiniera would keep your average Captain Cooker or Kuni-kuni quite happy.

Six Pois a Twirling

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Spaghetti and Meatballs:
We had some (ok, a lot of) pork mince left over, so meatballs seemed a logical step to represent the ball part of the poi, while the spaghetti represents the string.

Seven Eels a-Swimming

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Garlic Butter Mussels:
While Green-lipped Mussels aren’t great swimmers, more just hangers-on they, like the Longfin Eel, are native to New Zealand.

Eight Plants of Puha

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Faux Pho-ha:
Puha is a green, leafy green, wild vegetable that usually grows near water, so we made a Pho soup with mint, coriander (leafy green herbs) and meatballs.

Nine Sacks of Pipis

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Pipi Truck-style Pizza:
The Pipi Pizza Truck is a bit of an institution her in Hawke’s bay, so tonight’s pizza paid homage to the Pippi truck and the bivalve mollusc.

Ten Juicy Fish Heads

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Thai Fish Curry:
I can’t stand having my food staring blankly back at me, and MrsinFrame wouldn’t let us have fish and chips, so a lovely Thai fish curry was a great compromise.

Eleven Haka Lessons

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Black Pudding Sausage with Eggs and Fresh Pea Mash:
The Haka is, of course, synonymous with New Zealand’s national rugby team, so it was fitting that we had (All) Black pudding sausage, with the innards of rugby ball-shaped eggs and the Pea Mash representing the green rugby field.

Twelve Piupiu Swinging

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Skirt Steak with Broccoli and Mashed Potato:
Piupiu are a Maori grass skirt, so skirt steak seemed a suitable way to close out this Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas Deliciousness.

We hope you’ve been inspired to try some of these, or your own version next Christmas.

From the Napier in Frame family to yours, we wish you a Merry Kiwi Christmas and a safe and happy New Year!

I Want to Believe

Andrew's self-confidence, last seen heading into the gaping vacuum of space...

Andrew’s self-confidence, last seen heading into the gaping vacuum of space…

“If just one person believes in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you…
Hard enough, and long enough,
It stands to reason, that someone else will think
“If he can do it, I can do it.”

And when all those people,
Believe in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you…
Hard enough, and long enough

It stands to reason that you yourself will
Start to see what everybody sees in
You…

And maybe even you,
Can believe in you… Too!”

The Muppets – “Just One Person”

Self-esteem has a major, critical failing (ok, maybe several).

Whilst, as the name suggests, it is focused on esteem or confidence in one’s self, it really helps if there are others there to encourage confidence in that self as well.

So it kind of figures that self-esteem has been as hard for me to come by as real-life recognition or praise recently.

I’m trying to remember the last time someone complimented me in person – said “well done!” “good job!” “You’re hired – here’s $100,000!”(ok, I’m pushing the limits of reality there..) and nothing comes to mind.

Twenty years ago I finished working in radio (for the record, I started working in radio on New Year’s Eve 1995).

While I’m confident I could still wipe the floor content-wise with what qualifies as “on-air talent” today, you will likely never hear my beautiful bassy voice on the radio ever again – and not just because I’m inclined to swear lots more than I used to.

I tell people my dream radio career lasted only six months because I had too high an IQ and too low an ego (the other reasons were rubbish pay and trying to stay awake for 24 hours each Saturday).

I just couldn’t fake the level of self-belief required for radio.

And this was ‘90s-radio-level bravado I’m talking here – absolutely nowhere near the stratospherically narcissistic / Ninth Circle of Dante’s Inferno that it has become today.

But, while my radio career was muted, my voice was not silenced.

From an early age I learned the power words can wield.

So I started writing.

I’ve written stories, poems, radio ads, press releases, pieces for work newsletters, letters to the editor, Man About Town columns for “BayBuzz”, opinion pieces in Stuff and even a couple articles in the local paper many years ago about growing up in Napier in the 1980’s and my love for my home town.

My Dad was always my biggest supporter.

He believed in me.

He kept newspaper clippings of every letter or item I had in the paper and even some of the more colourful reactions!

Three years ago I started writing Napier in Frame.

It’s not a profession – I make no money from my writing.

I have a full time job and a young family to support which is my priority, so I can only write when I have the time or inclination.

I still wrote the occasional letter to the editor, when something utterly atrocious stood out – Art Deco buses and the miss-management behind MTG’s construction were stand-outs.

But I steadily shifted towards writing on this site and promoting it via my Twitter and Facebook profiles.

People who know me even say “I haven’t seen your letters in the paper recently” when I see them in the street. I tell them about this site, but they seldom seem interested or even aware of a world wide web beyond traditional print media.

Two years ago my Dad died suddenly.

I kept writing – it helped me cope and process things, but it kind of felt like any support, luck, or belief anyone had in me died too.

I’ve written, what I at least think, is some of my best work since then – The coverage of my recent stay in hospital received plaudits, but these are predominantly from friends online.

This is where things get a bit confuddling.

FM

Positive reactions are always good to receive, but self-doubt (self-esteem’s arch-nemesis) can begin to creep in.

Someone (usually a friend) gives you a compliment on Facebook or Twitter and you automatically discount it – “Of COURSE they’d say that, they’re your FRIEND!” Or “It’s ONLY social media – it’s not ‘REAL’” – sabotaging yourself and your abilities.

Even when you point out something that you think is blatantly wrong – Like hypocrisy over the Ruataniwha Dam, or the local newspaper covering Hastings District Council bailing out Horse of the Year, when the event’s board said in the same paper just weeks before they themselves would cover the loss and nothing is done.

The “bad guys” win.

Worse still can be spending years developing and making your case for a way to improve the city you love and the region you were born and raised in.

That idea gets local and national coverage.

Heck, even John Campbell likes it!

JC

But when you approach people you believe have the resources, funds and it’s in their best interests to actually enact your idea and the response is nothing – silence.

In this gaping vacuum of space no one can hear you scream in frustration.

I’ve had similar responses trying to rejig New Zealand’s flailing mainstream media – But the general consensus there is

“What would he know? He’s only from Hawke’s Bay!”

If I’m wrong that’s not a problem. You can learn from mistakes and correct them.

But no one has told me I’m wrong.

People tell me they “admire my passion” and am constantly queried on how I would achieve the goals I seek.

I tell them, but they don’t offer to help and “passion” won’t pay the bills, or finance what I have planned.

What if I’m right and no one cares to help try and make a difference, to help effect change or fix the problems I’m trying to remedy?

Ignoring problems doesn’t solve them or make them go away.

But ignoring people who are trying to fix problems makes the people go away – lose hope, lose self-esteem and confidence.

Imposter

I’ve become quite philosophical and theological about it:

“If Andrew makes a factual statement and no-one notices or cares, is he still right?”

“Before THE WORD, or there was light, or even the Big Bang, Andrew was wrong”

When the negativity or gaping vacuum of ignorance gets to you and makes you glum, sad, or grumpy and strips away your self-belief, you’re STILL wrong – Because being glum, sad, or grumpy isn’t allowed – You’ve apparently got to be happy, positive and smiling All. The. Time?!

This isn’t one of those inspirational stories of the little struggler, the battler, who overcomes adversity to triumph.

It is the tale of someone who has been told they’re wrong when they’re not, who has been ignored and unappreciated long enough for it to essentially become a default setting – a shitty-mood Stockholm Syndrome.

@Oatmeal Nails it once again :/

@Oatmeal Nails it once again :/

Having to spend a few weeks in hospital pales in comparison.

Shakespeare said we only have an hour upon life’s stage to strut and fret before we are heard no more.

I want to make a difference in that hour, but I can’t do it alone.

I need support, I need people to believe in me.

I need to believe in myself.

I want to believe.

Mourning Mediaworks’ Muppet Muting

sesame

“Sometimes you’re crazy
And you wonder why
I’m such a baby, yeah
‘Cause The Muppets make me cry”

Paraphrasing “Only Want to Be With You” – Hootie and the Blowfish

Someone told me a while ago that I “suffer from nostalgia”.

I thought it was an odd expression, as rather than “suffering” from nostalgia, I find it far more “comforting”.

“Nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain, ache””

I did, however, feel a great deal of pain when I learned that one of the best television shows of all time, Sesame Street, will be leaving NZ free-to-air television screens from the end of June when Mediaworks’ “Four” channel is rebranded “Bravo” and degenerates into wall to wall “hyper-reality” television.

Some shows have already been given new timeslots on Four’s network sister channel “3”, but notably absent was Sesame Street.

Perhaps the network is still a bit grouchy that an almost 50 year old children’s show out-rated their much-vaunted “current affairs” breakfast venture

This coming November, Sesame Street will have been a friend and teacher to billions of children across the globe for 47 years – that’s one hell of a feat in the fickle world of television!

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.

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.

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

When he 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 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.

And I believed the words to that song – That “Just One Person” can make a difference.

There will, of course, still be access to Sesame Street videos and episodes online from July, but internet access can be an expensive, unaffordable luxury for many.

This availability of Sesame Street on free to air television has had wide reaching benefits with studies showing it has just as many developmental and educational benefits for children as going to pre-school which some cannot afford, or be geographically able to attend.

So, when Toddler in Frame and I watch Sesame Street for the last time on TV Four this weekend, she may wonder why Daddy is crying.

It’s because I’ll be pitying the next generation that isn’t getting to see it the way so many grew up with.

The genius, the love, the knowledge and empathy they will miss out on – replaced by cheap, commercialised, fake rubbish.

Future generations deserve far better.

Post Script: The Muppets do remain on Free to Air television in New Zealand in case you were worried: Mediaworks’ opponent, TVNZ, picked Sesame Street (and a new series “The Furchester Hotel”) some six months to a year after it was removed from Mediaworks screens, so its genius still remains to inspire young kiwis 😀

Dis-Carded

Twitter669369f

When I saw it crumpled up on the floor of that hall, maybe I should have just given up there and then – Saved myself 20 years of work, stress, time and pointless hope.

Because it was right – A portent of things to come.

No matter how hard I tried or what I did, it wouldn’t be enough. I wouldn’t be good enough to achieve the goal – the DREAM it symbolised.

It was 1997 and I was volunteering for the Hawke’s Bay Cancer Society as a “Youth Health Promoter” – particularly aimed at Smokefree initiatives – the “cause célèbre à la mode”.

I had been doing it for a couple of years, having decided I didn’t want to go to university upon finishing high school, I instead worked at a local radio station for six months and when I saw the Cancer Society’s “proper” health promotion lady in a community newspaper promoting some event, I thought I’d like to help out.

So I did.

I’ve always had great promotional / “sales” skills (though I much preferred “selling” ideas rather than the unrealistic, ever-increasing “sales goals” variety) and, like radio, I got a kick out of the performance aspect of promoting stuff – being unconventional, finding different, memorable ways of doing things.

We gave presentations in schools, held a camp for high school leaders to help spread the Smokefree message, went to Wellington to film a segment for a youth TV show called “Get Real” (that never made it to air because the “tape got lost”) and held Smokefree Speech Contests.

clippings

I had even been selected to be a (expenses paid) New Zealand representative at an Australasian youth health conference in Sydney (my first overseas experience) – So I must have been doing something right.

I was having a great time. I enjoyed the work (although I also had to work part time in a supermarket for income). I did interesting things and got to meet great people.

I was meeting so many people I wanted to learn from and keep in touch with that I made up my own “business cards”.

Inkjet printed on green cardboard, they weren’t the pinnacle of professional imagery, but I was merely a volunteer and it was all I could afford.

That is when it happened.

I had only just made them the week before one of the speech contests and handed two out at the event. I can’t remember who I handed them to, but I remember seeing one in someone’s diary – used as a bookmark as they left.

Then I saw the other one.

Twitter62189d1

It was scrunched up, lying on the floor close to where I had given it to whoever it was.

The purpose of the card dead before it hit the ground.

I felt a bit crap and hurt about it at the time – That what I was doing had been discarded so thoughtlessly, but I moved on.

The compulsion behind throwing the card away didn’t.

It persisted – An origami albatross around my neck.

I had been doing this work voluntarily for two years and loved it so much I wanted to make it my career – to make a living out of it.

I asked those involved professionally what I should do and was told I had to get a tertiary qualification in marketing or something similar.

So, combining my volunteer work and an actual paying job, I added a one year, full time “Diploma in Marketing” course from Napier’s own Eastern Institute of Technology to my work schedule.

I passed, acing the communication aspects of the course and graduated with an A4 certificate, a few thousand dollars’ worth of student debt and, as it turned out, nothing more.

I applied for well over 50 marketing-type jobs in the years immediately after my graduation and equally got well over 50 rejections.

Many years later I was asked to do a short video for Baybuzz on what I thought Hawke’s Bay needed – in a take that ended up on the cutting room floor I symbolically crunched up and threw away a copy of my marketing diploma – that was what it is worth to me.

I still volunteered for the Cancer Society. They were great and very supportive, but being a charitable organisation they couldn’t afford to pay me.

In 1997 I had been to the (“Smokefree” it was at the time) “Stage Challenge” at the Hastings Municipal Theatre.

I fell in love with it.

High school students perform a piece of theatre on a (usually social or historical) topic of their choice to music over eight minutes.

It was loud, energetic, colourful and amazing – If you haven’t seen a performance before, it’s basically a Baz Luhrmann musical movie amped up to 11 by teenaged hormones, pheromones and whatever the loudest, most energetic music of the day is.

So in 1998 I made direct contact with the company who ran it at the time from rural Victoria Australia and offered to help and went around Hawke’s Bay high schools getting as many as I could involved in the event.

The previous year two HB schools had taken part; I managed to up that number to five, with another two schools I had approached joining in the following year.

Our local DHB’s Health Promotion Unit was the “official” local supporter of Stage Challenge in Hawke’s Bay. So I approached them to see if we could team up promoting the event – going around schools, getting stuff in the paper and on the radio.

In the end it was just me that ended up doing those things – The DHB set up a table with some health-related pamphlets at the theatre on the day of the show. That was pretty much their entire involvement.

The 1998 Hawke’s Bay Stage Challenge was a high energy, feel-good success and enjoyed by almost all involved.

I say “almost” because I was the exception.

I loved the performances, the energy, the music and the passion the teams put into and got out of their performances. The school teams thanked me for my help and input.

Having spent several months going around the region, promoting the event and almost TRIPLING the number of local schools competing I had to ask the show’s producers for any form of thanks. Even then it wasn’t forthcoming

For their table of pamphlets, the DHB got a framed gold disc as a sign of appreciation.

I got nothing.

It was the beginning of the end for me.

With the promotional and entrant numbers success (but appreciation fail) of Stage Challenge added to over two years of voluntary work experience, promotion, publicity and interaction, as well as my “tertiary marketing qualification” I applied to numerous local and national health promotion and similar, youth-orientated, agencies to try and get a foothold in paid employment at something I enjoyed doing and had been recognised (by a few at least) as being very good at.

The response: Nothing.

I gave up.

It wasn’t easy – When you dedicate all your free time over several years to something you believe in, enjoy and are good at, only to be shot down at every opportunity for advancement or even thanks it gets very physically and emotionally draining very quickly.

I packed up all my Smokefree things, returned them and walked away.

I went back to working for money, rather than enjoyment. It was all rather capitalistic and soulless.

I eventually found a job I loved in a bookshop. In that job I met someone I would go on to love and be loved by and end up marrying.

After some struggles the two of us would have a baby girl who we both love VERY much.

Love inspires – It encourages hope, it rekindles dreams, it makes you want to be a better person.

I started writing and promoting / “selling” ideas again – so I could be a better inspiration for my daughter, like my dad was for me.

But the shadows of an origami albatross started circling again….

Rest, Recovery and Ryan Reynolds

Bed

I’m cruising through Newtown and over the hill to Kilbirnie. Before I know it I’m launched into the air over Lyall Bay.
The rocks that surround Moa Point, jagged and sharpened by centuries of Cook Strait swells look like the teeth of an ancient, sleeping Taniwha.
I’m sure I see an eye wink amongst the windswept grass – the beast is threatening to rip me to shreds.
I climb higher and slowly turn. I see an unfamiliar, narrow inlet and wonder what it is, before realising it’s the inlet to Port Nicholson – Wellington Harbour.
Despite the channel’s width the choppy waves breaking on Barret Reef make it hard to believe two ships could pass each other through there without both vessels and crews holding their breath.
I soar on. Past Pencarrow Head and around Cape Palliser, heading north.
I’m going home!
I climb higher and before I know it am above the clouds. White, fluffy merengue below, bright blue and radiant sun above.
Is this what heaven looks like?
Should I be disappointed that it all seems a bit clichéd?

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes:

“The chief anaesthesiologist says “Right, Andrew, we’re going to start sending you off to sleep now, just relax and breathe.” I relax, breathe, blink and..”

I’m in “PACU” (Post Anaesthetic Care Unit) as it’s called in Wellington Hospital.

A couple hours have evaporated in the blink of an eye.

I don’t know what they’ve done to general anaesthetic these days, but it’s become a narcotic ninja!

I remember operations years ago, where you were aware you were going under – You’d feel woozy or your hearing would go all funny and then “zonk” – Not any more.

It takes a bit to regain full lucidity, but out the corner of my eye I see one of the head anaesthesiologists who visited me the yesterday before the operation, at least I think I see him – Things are still a bit ethereal and I imagine guardian spirits have learned to wear clothing to suit their surrounds by now.

His presence reminds me of something one of the doctors said and I touch my chest to make sure they haven’t had to crack me fully open – I can’t feel any bandages so breathe a little sigh of relief.

Instead I have a ten centimetre, curved scar just under my left breast, with a chest drain tube inserted into a hole just below that.

(Once the bandages are off it looks like I’ve had a boob-job and then been shot.)

He says the biopsy was a success – In fact, instead of getting three samples, they were able to get four!

I give a tired, even more relieved smile.

We’ll soon know just what this thing is.

I’m kept in PACU for around two hours – Which would feel like a long time if not for the drugs, comfy bed and numerous cups of tea and sandwiches.

I tell the nurses it appears the Wellington real estate market has followed Auckland’s maniacal lead and the bed space I left in the Heart Unit that morning has been bought and sold three times while I have been in theatre and recovery – hence the delay.

Sadly I get no share of the profits, but it provides entertainment.

Throughout my stay I’m reminded of the “Deadpool” movie trailer I’ve seen numerous times (it’s all I’ll get to see until its DVD release as the movie’s run in theatres coincides almost perfectly with my enforced hospital stay) where one of the baddies say “The one thing that never survives this place is a sense of humour” and our eponymous protagonist played by someone as equally chiselled, charming and um… Commonwealthean(?) as yours truly, Ryan Reynolds (he’s a year older than me, but I’m six inches taller than him), replies “We’ll see about that”.

Stay positive, make jokes.

There’s someone out there worse off than you.

I have a couple of the bigger IV lines removed which I am grateful for as they looked big, uncomfortable and, well, “icky” and am eventually wheeled back to the Heart Unit, but put in “Step Down” which is an open-plan room where the nurses can closely monitor six beds at once rather than a more widely spread “pod” of individual rooms.

Having had nothing other than tea and sandwiches since the night before, lunch and dinner are well received and quickly vaporised.

As I eat, though, I keep bending my right arm, which in turn makes an IV line in my arm move and sets off the alarm on the line’s pump. After an hour of sporadic beeping (and accompanied quiet cussing from me) one of the nurses jury rigs the line to my arm with a cotton swab and some sticky tape.

The pain-relieving epidural they put in before the operation has numbed me from roughly armpit to thigh level, so I’m confined to bed for the rest of the day and night.

This numbing poses some extra challenges:

As this this large area under anaesthetic includes my heart, it means the heart doesn’t pump as much as it usually does. So to make up for this they hook me up to a saline drip and basically substitute blood pressure with water pressure – Around ten litres of fluid goes into (and out of) me in roughly 24 hours to try and make up for the depleted pumping.

But this, the nurses tell me, can have a side effect –If your body has too much fluid going through it, it can have the same result as getting too little fluid (dehydration) and cause an electrolyte imbalance and can send your heart into dysrhythmia and TACHYCARDIA!

You must be freaking kidding me!

After all the hoopla of hospital and tests and weeks of waiting – the tachycardia, to my thinking at least, WAS CAUSED BY DEHYDRATION?!

This means the discovery of the growth on my heart was basically just happenstance?

Oh, come on!

I suffer through a night of broken sleep due to the nurses constantly monitoring (and worrying about) my low blood pressure. This is compounded by a lamp on the nurses’ station deciding to join in on my irritable insomnia by somehow positioning itself to shine right at my bed. It isn’t until early morning that one of the nurses moves a curtain and curtails its caustic candle power.

Breakfast the next morning is accompanied by a physiotherapist named Daniel who gets me to get up out of bed and take my first cautious steps in 24 hours.

The movement, breakfast and change from horizontal to vertical planes is just what my blood pressure needs and it miraculously returns to normal straight away (or maybe it was just bored).

That morning my wife also arrives for her second visit of my Wellington stay. This time her trip is funded by wonderful friends of ours (thanks Kim and Reza!)

The next three days are devoted to rest and recovery.

I have my last two major lines (the epidural and a catheter that has been looking after, um, “water flow” removed a day or so after the operation and the freedom it provides (despite having only been in place for a few days) is remarkable.

Mrs Frame goes on supply gathering missions (she is even stricter about me leaving the ward, let alone hospital grounds than the medical staff!) and more Wellington Twitter friends come to visit us (thanks Jim, Morgan and Mike).

As I’ve said, the Wellington nurses are great – and just to prove it, on the day I go home all the ones I have had contact with over my stay come to say goodbye and give me a hug – Four of them line up to do so as I’m leaving, much to the chagrin of my wife and the orderly who is supposed to escort me down to the transport centre.

Before I know it (and, as it turns out, several hours before my wife’s return flight home is due to leave) I find myself cruising through Newtown and over the hill to Kilbirnie in yet another Wellington Free Ambulance with another patient and her daughter, before launching into the air over Lyall Bay (see what I did there?) and flying home in the Hawke’s Bay Air Ambulance.

It will be a week before I find out the results of my biopsy, so what better place to recover and wait than at home?

Dames in White Cotton

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I’m sitting in the TV room of Wellington Hospital’s Cardiac Unit doing a crossword when an alarm goes off.

This is far from unusual. Every hour of every day in this unit there are beeps and bops and dings – Heart-rate monitors, drip bags running low, someone needing assistance.

But this alarm is a bit more urgent – not so different as to be concerning to patients, but unmistakeable if you know what to listen out for.

It doesn’t sound good.

Within seconds I hear fast footsteps and three nurses run past my door, heading for one of the other wings, a few seconds after that there is the rumble of heavy, trolley-based equipment being rolled in the same direction.

It REALLY doesn’t sound good.

A few minutes pass with no further urgent noises and one of the nurses I saw running past walks back to her station past me.

She smiles, but it’s one of those looks where the mouth smiles, though the eyes tell a different, far more concerned, story.

I don’t envy the staff here.

They are wonderful, funny, talented, smart, beautiful, professional and capable, but the job they do is not one I think I could do myself.

They are literally dealing with life and death and in cardiology the difference between those two extremes can be a single heartbeat.

“The average age of nurses in New Zealand is 52” I am told by one of my caregivers as we chat on the way to a scan.

Growing up in Napier I can believe that, as you invariably knew someone whose mum was a nurse and in somewhere like Hawke’s Bay, where nursing jobs seem more secure / long-term, the nurses could mostly be described as “Mum age”.

At any hospital you go to, you become accustomed to the Junior Doctors / Registrars / House Surgeons being all about the same age as Doogie Howser (some of them are too young to get the reference).

But the first thing I noticed when I arrived in Wellington Hospital was that the nurses all seemed so young – The average age in the cardiology ward here would be around 25-30 (my initial estimation was closer to 18).

This is no indictment on their level of skill or professionalism, of course, merely an observation of their youth.

It is also a indication to the depth of their character, given the serious nature of their job and the physical, psychological and emotional toll it must take on those so young.

So I asked some of these young nurses what drew them to the profession:

Theresa* (Not her real name) is 23 and has been qualified nurse for a little over two years.

Her father had a history of heart problems and succumbed to heart disease when Theresa was 15.

Having watched her dad go through these issues wasn’t the sole catalyst in her becoming a nurse, but she says it certainly helps her empathise with the patients she treats and their families.

She tells me she has had only one patient exhibiting the exact same symptoms as her father and they passed away on the 8th anniversary of his death.

“That was obviously hard, but if you let these sort of things get to you too much, this isn’t a job you should be in.”

Theresa says she loves helping people and the things she has gone through in her personal life creates an empathy with those she looks after.

The nature of her work and her family’s experiences have certainly changed her perspective on life – She no longer “sweats the small stuff”.

In 2010 Florence* (Not her real name either) was studying biomedical science at university, but started to get the impression that while this was something she really wanted to do, like so many other tertiary students, actual career options on completion of her degree were rapidly drying up.

So, in the space of a week before Christmas, she applied to take up nursing training because it combined two things she loved doing – interacting with people and her interest in biomedical science.

She passed, but while there were plenty of newly qualified nurses and plenty of positions, there wasn’t the funding within the health system to place all graduates – 50% of her qualifying class got jobs straight away.

She now works on-call across a range of wards – Cardiology, Medical, Oncology, Orthopaedics and Urology and Surgical disciplines, waiting for her ideal permanent position to come up.

“I know I’m going to have an awesome career, I just don’t know what I’ll end up as”

And when Florence says this, like all her colleagues I talked to, she radiates a certainty, a determination and a passion for their work that makes you certain they will do wonderful things and those they look after will have the best possible care, because they care so much about what they do.

I read a newspaper article the other day about New Zealand’s ever-developing cult of “#Celebrity” (yes, the headline included its own hashtag) – Those half-pie, “reality” TV, 15-minutes-too-many-of-fame “stars” famous for, well, nothing really.

I thought “We MUST be able to do better than this!”

There are people out there doing FAR more for others, who are FAR more deserving of attention and praise than those being deified as a by-product of scripted reality, product placement and creative editing”.

There is already a song dedicated to “(K)Nights in White Satin.”

It’s time we had more praise for our “Dames in White Cotton”!

Hello From the Inside

“Hello, Can you hear me?
I’m in Wellington Hospital dreaming about how life used to be
Just weeks ago I was in Hawke’s Bay feeling young and fit and free,
I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell out from under me..”

(Sorry, Adele, Please don’t sue!)

Shortly after you last you heard from me, I was flown down to Wellington Hospital by Hawke’s Bay Air Ambulance for the next stage of my “Adventures in Tachycardia”.

My own private plane!

My own private plane!

The flight was very nice, with calm weather and we enjoyed magnificent views of Hawke’s Bay, the Central Plateau volcanoes, Wairarapa, Kapati Coast and Wellington. We could even see the dark, almost-equilateral triangle of Mount Taranaki on the opposite coast to our own.

It added further levels of perspective and scale to what were massive personal issues.

A similar course of events to what happened in HBCCU ensued over a day or two, culminating in the scheduled MRI scan which revealed….. Not a lot more than we already knew:

There is a growth on / as part of the wall of my heart on the left ventricle, but they were still unable to tell what it is.

The next step was to get a biopsy, but there are issues there too:
(Please note, the following descriptions are what I have gleaned from information available to me and reflect only my interpretations of said options)

Option One:
To get an internal biopsy, they could go in through the femoral artery in my leg and up to my heart and take a tissue sample that way BUT, as I’m 6’8″ tall, the distance from my groin to my heart (via artery – don’t be smutty!) is a VERY long way.

The longer the wire, the less control you can have guiding it to take a small tissue sample and, as the left ventricle looks after your extremities (fingers, toes, etc.) there is a lot of pressure in there, which makes maneuvering even tougher and increases the chances of hitting / scraping the inner walls of the heart (not recommended at all) or missing the growth completely.

Option Two:
Making a small incision between a couple of my ribs and doing explorative key-hole-type surgery. More invasive than going through an artery, but a far shorter distance.

Even from this direction, the growth is still quite tricky to get to (a lung and some other stuff in the way) so they’d still be going in reasonably blind.

Option Three:
Open-heart surgery – Crack me open like an Easter egg.

Obviously this way is massively invasive and pretty over the top action for a small biopsy.

While they had me open, they might as well remove the growth, but not knowing fully what it is, its structural make-up, or just how it is interacting with the heart is far too risky.

It takes about three months for your ribs to heal from this sort of procedure, so recovery time would interfere with any further treatment and vice versa.

But before any of that, they devised on more option:

During an MRI scan they inject you with a dye / “Contrast” which helps show up different things like blood flow. The growth showed up more when this contrast was added.

Sooooo….

Option Four:
Put me through a full-body “PET” scan, inject me with the contrast that the growth showed up on (or similar) and hope there is another growth somewhere on me that lights up in the same way, but is far easier to get to and take a biopsy of that!

I’m starting to feel like an episode of “House”.

In the meantime I’m still an enigma.

Surrounding these occasions of high tech medical marvelry are long periods of bugger all.

Doing absolutely nothing can be horrifically exhausting.

But there are highlights.

As has been said, there are patients here far worse off than me who need stents, multiple bypasses, valves and pacemakers. Due to their issues being more blood-flow related, for their own safety they are not allowed to leave the ward.

While still monitored 24/7, I’m allowed a bit of a longer leash and can go for a wander down to the hospital atrium / cafeteria / shop and have even been for a a wander outside into Newtown, but only within 500 meters of the hospital because, while it hasn’t returned in two weeks, there’s still a chance that the VT could return and drop me there and then.

No one wants to play medical chicken.

When not on one of my brief “free range” breaks social media has not only helped keep me insane, but has been an invaluable window to the outside world (watching or reading mainstream news and media at the moment is enough to tip you over the edge..).

I’ve been very thankful for visitors, too.

My wife came down for three days last week (Toddler in Frame remained at home – the logistics and demands of bringing her down were a little too much under the circumstances and, being so young, isn’t too keen on hospitals in any case).

I have a number of Wellington Twitter friends and some of them have been to visit too, bringing supplies (PIZZA!) and even loaning me some tech to help do some writing (hence this update). So thanks, Laurie and Annette! 🙂

I’ve even had workmates, who were in Wellington to see the Te Papa Dreamworks and World War One exhibits pop in to visit, which is very nice and shows that my work still cares.

But I have to give special thanks to my old school friend Lisa and her family.

Lisa lives just up the road from the hospital and has been wonderfully supportive, helpful and gave Mrs in Frame somewhere to stay while she was here.

So here I am – still in a holding pattern, but grateful for the help and care I am receiving.

The big question is, when they do eventually figure out what it is is that growing on my heart, “What’s next?”

Owner of a Broken (but not Lonely) Heart

heart

When last we saw our ruggedly deluded protagonist he was in the Coronary Care Unit of Hawke’s Bay Hospital having been defibrillated after having Ventricle Tachycardia for over 12 hours.

The day after I was admitted to hospital, the cardiologist visited to check up on me and let me know what was going on.

The news was good and bad.

Good in that I was alive and very fortunate to still be here after such a long cardiac event.

Bad in that I would be in hospital for about a week or so to ensure the VT didn’t make a reappearance, and if it did, I would be in the right place for immediate treatment (so technically “good”).

I would likely end up being fitted with a mini pacemaker-like device called an ICD (“Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator”) that would shock my heart back into line if it started miss-firing again.

So that was kind of bad (operation, pain, more recovery), but also good in that I would then have new awesome cyborg parts!

But more shockingly to me, I would not be allowed to drive for six months.

SIX MONTHS!!

I love my independence and my work is a 15 minute drive away, with un-flattering hours, so not being able to drive anywhere for half a year was a bit of a blow to say the least.

Hell, not being able to bugger off out of the ward and go home to my wife and daughter for a week was a big enough blow.

The driving ban was mainly precautionary. If I was driving and had another VT event I could blackout / die at the wheel, crash and cause untold carnage – hardly the sort of picture NZ’s health system would like to paint – so while crippling it was understandable.

I was scheduled to have various tests over the following days, so the main thing I had ahead of me was lots of waiting.

In Coronary Care “Waiting” is practically a competitive sport, because everyone is doing it.

But the gold medal is for Humility and everyone in the ward deserves a medal for that, and not in a wishy-washy NCEA, “Everyone gets a prize” way.

In Coronary Care the level of humility is a wonderful thing.

There are people needing stents to open blocked arteries, new heart valves, pacemakers, heck, even multiple bypasses – medical conditions that so little as 20-30 years ago were still largely lethal.

But rather than focusing on their own problems, the constant theme and saying amongst patients is: “There’s someone out there worse off than me”.

That is quite something.

The other thing that being in this situation opened my eyes to is the kindness of others – There’s a lot of help, love and chocolate out there.

My wife and daughter visit regularly, of course, which is a necessity for my sanity, but also bitter-sweet because then they have to go again and I’m once again alone.

I was only in the ward for a day before my work colleagues sent me a gift basket full of goodies – fruit, sweets and a crossword book to fill in time with.

One of my wonderful nurses sensed I was getting cabin fever and offered to escort me down to the cafeteria while she got some lunch. It was only a short trip, but just being able to re-enter the “big, wide world” for a bit was gloriously refreshing.

My wonderful Facebook and Twitter friends – many of whom I have only met 140 characters at a time were offering their good wishes, help and more food (I like where this is heading!).

Attitude and positive vibes are a large part of being in a situation such as mine, so these well-wishers have certainly been a big, positive part of the process.

And I would need it, because there was more news on the horizon and it wasn’t too good.

During one of my scans they noticed two things:

1/ My heart was a bit bigger than usual – I wasn’t too surprised by this, because I’m 6’8” tall, so a slightly larger heart made sense in that there was more body to pump blood around

But, more concerning:

2/ A growth had been picked up on or near my heart – they couldn’t quite tell its proximity, but it was obviously of concern. This could explain an increase the size of the heart and the dysrhythmia, from the heart being irritated.

I couldn’t feel anything different – in fact I felt (and still feel) fine, which added to a general sense of detachment in not knowing it was there at all – The tachycardia might have been a good thing after all.

The growth is unlike anything my cardiologist has seen before which, believe it or not, I take as a good thing, because it means its not something he knows is immediately bad.

I was the headline act in HB Hospital’s weekly teleconference with their Wellington coronary specialists, who are equally intrigued – at this rate I might be the Mr April centrefold in the next edition of The Lancet!

But mainly I just hope I survive.

So I’m on a bit of a roller-coaster at the moment – Ups and down, highs and lows and even the odd corkscrew.

I don’t know what to expect, other than next week I will be flown down to Wellington Hospital by Air Ambulance (My own private plane, Woo-hoo!) undergo more tests, a biopsy and.. who knows?

Sometimes in quiet, dark moments the bad things and possibilities creep in. Other times I just miss my family, or being able to simply get out into the big wide world that I can see through the window next to my hospital bed.

But I’m keeping positive as much as I can.

There are others out there worse off than I am.

Mr Cello-Frame

Old Shub

Old Shub

You’d think it would be hard to ignore someone who was intelligent, witty and stood at a towering 6’8” of chiselled delusion.

Apparently not.

I love social media and spend a fair bit of time on it.

Late last month Mediaworks, in their latest fit of infinite wisdom, rebranded “3 News” as “Newshub”.

It took only slightly longer than the speed of light before Twitter lit up with comments and witty observations.

Most, like Michele A’Court, wondered what a “New Shub” was.

Being a veteran of the 1980’s I knew precisely what it was, because my parents had one in our old home – In fact, it’s still there! (see above).

So I told her:

Shub 1

She replied to me, which was cool, because I’ve been a fan of hers since she was one of the hosts of “What Now” in that golden era of New Zealand Children’s television.

A couple days rolled by, which saw me working around the house and trying not to melt playing cricket, so it wasn’t until Sunday morning that I had the time to see what the Twitterverse was up to and read some online news.

It was then I noticed an article posted on Stuff the day after the “Newshub” / “New Shub” Twitter debate.

“Hey, look!” I thought “They mention Michele’s tweet that I replied to!”

I read on further.

“Hey, look!” I thought again “They even use capital letters the same way I did to describe “SHower-bathtUB” to Michele and her reply to me!”

Shub 2

But something was missing: Me!

While I had provided what would appear to be reasonably crucial information that helped form the basis for the article, I somehow didn’t matter enough to get a mention.

I thought that was pretty stink.

So I asked why.

Shub 3

While fellow Twitterer Mark Reynolds provided a suitably tongue-in-tweet response, I’m still waiting for a reply from Stuff or the article’s author.

I’m all too used to being ignored but I’m no longer putting up with it.

And editing me out like that was pretty bad “Netiquette”.

My writing has been good enough to feature on Stuff Nation a few times before and the comments on those articles were thoughtful and made for good discussions, so why should a couple 140 character messages be any different?

Especially when my response was, like I said, pretty central to the article.

While I may not be as famous as Michele A’Court (yet), I too am a “commentator and comedian”.

What I write or say might not be as the earth shattering as the holiday snaps or relationships of people who somehow qualify as “news” these days, but I like to think I’m at least trying to make a difference to problems that effect Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand.

I think that deserves some attention.

To paraphrase Amos Hart from the musical “Chicago” – “It’s time you stopped looking right through me, Walking right by me and never knowing I’m there!”

For once Napier in Frame deserves better…

R.I.P. DSE

DSE

The knives are out over the carcass of Dick Smith Electronics.

And, surprisingly, it has nothing to do with their completely confusing advertising campaign last year that featured “The Mad Butcher”, Sir Peter Leitch.

At least they didn’t advertise “55 Inch LED TVs – only $9.99 a kilo!”

A couple nasty viruses called “Greed” and “Private Equity” fried DSE’s circuit boards and the damage seems irreparable – our memory files of Australasia’s most well-known electronics stores have been forever corrupted.

I remember going to Napier’s first Dick Smith store with my Dad in 1980-something-or-other.

It was a tiny shop on Latham Street, just a couple hundred meters towards Marine Parade from and on the opposite side of the road to McLean Park.

It was packed full of the “latest” 1980’s innovations – Car radios with cassette tape players and the most basic of digital watches not to mention shelves full of plugs, switches, wires, diodes and solder.

The epitome of tech DIY!

There was so much stuff in these small shops you almost expected Arkwright or Steptoe to pop their head out from around the counter corner and try to sell you half their stock.

But they didn’t.

Instead there was a small, quiet man – almost certainly wearing glasses and a sleeveless knitted vest that answered your questions and pointed you in the right directions to get just what you needed.

There were no bells and whistles (unless you were looking at wiring up an early home security alarm) because the shop manager was an electronics hobbyist himself – he knew where each gauge of wire, light emitting diode and self-returning switch was and exactly what they did.

They weren’t rocket scientists, but by 1980’s provincial New Zealand standards they weren’t far off.

We purchased our first ever computer, a Sinclair ZX81, from that shop.

ZX81

You had to plug it into the TV via the aerial lead and tune it in to get a picture. With no on-board memory, programmes were loaded and saved via either plug-in cartridges, or a cassette tape recorder that also needed to be plugged into the tiny keyboard / motherboard unit.

While there appears little doubt these private capital chumps are guilty of killing Dick Smith Electronics off financially, it could be argued that advances in technology had been undermining the chain’s original core customer base for many more years before that.

As technology developed it got considerably smaller, phenomenally cheaper and required far less input.

Where once, back in the 80’s, someone would spend weeks and hundreds of dollars building their own computer or some other type of electronic timesaving gadgetry, today you could pick up the same item for $10-$20 at any one of hundreds of discount electronics stores, who bought the item in bulk from some massive production facility where workers are paid five cents per item produced.

When that item breaks or stops working, do you try to fix it like my father’s generation did? No, you just buy a new one at an equally cheap price.

There has been a generational attitude change from “Do It Yourself” to “Cheap and Nasty”, which is a great shame. Because not only does it enable those who pay a pittance for the production of electronics and then make massive profits themselves, it also detracts future generations from investigating just how things work, thinking up ways of improving them and making improvements themselves – we’re wiping out a skill set!

Dick Smith himself lamented the change in culture. When Supermarket chain Woolworths bought him out they steered away from core basic electronics into these dangerous waters of cheap, premade electronic goods.

The service in the stores seemed to echo an equally cheap supermarket mind-set.

Gone were the studious, knowledgeable old men. In came fresh faced teenagers – cheap to employ, apparently not worth training much beyond cash register usage or incentivising in sales – just as disposable as the goods they sold.

In the last few years I went into Dick Smith stores several times and am still waiting for anyone to ask if I needed any help finding what I was after – I did, so left the store empty-handed and found what I was after elsewhere.

The loss of Dick Smith Electronics is a sad one, especially for those who are now left out of pocket and potentially jobs by those who blew smoke, erected mirrors, took the money and ran. But it was not unforeseeable – just like the demise of the video store.

Perhaps if someone could make a time machine we could travel back thirty years into the past and warn those in charge of Dick Smith to focus on their core products and put passion for what they do ahead of profit.

If only there was still somewhere we could by the parts for a Flux Capacitor..