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.

We Are All Stars

When I was younger my Mum and Dad would often sit outside at night, looking at the stars and watching for satellites.

I always thought it was a bit odd.

I remember seeing Halley’s Comet in 1986 and wondering if I’d still be alive the next time it came by in 2061. Heavy stuff for a nine year old.

In the early 2000s I watched a documentary series “Space” hosted by Sam Neill.

The first episode showed just how small and insignificant we were in the universe and the second showed how easily we could be wiped off the face of aforementioned astronomical plane.

23 year old me felt insignificant enough as it was without the whole universe chiming in.

I didn’t bother watching beyond those first two instalments.

So space and the night sky filled with stars became a bit of a stranger to me.

A passive aggressive bully, if you will.

I tried to ignore it.

Then I became a Dad, my own Dad passed away, I had my own medical drama two years ago and then Mum died last February.

I started looking at night sky again.

Going outside when the International Space Station was due to silently streak high over New Zealand.

Admiring just how bright and red Mars is as it rises in the eastern sky.

I even started taking my daughter out each night to “wish upon a star” (it’s usually, actually, the planet Venus, but whatever..)

I began admiring the passion and beauty Paul Le Comte and Ian Griffin put into and portrayed in their star photography.

And maybe I was even thinking, hoping, a couple of those twinkles in the night sky might just be my parents looking down on us.

Now at night I often stop for a minute, look up and quietly smile at the stars.

Something In The Water

NCC workers keeping one of the city’s biggest stormwater drains clear.

During last week’s rather atrocious weather across Hawke’s Bay Napier’s continuing water woes became even more evident, with Napier City Council issuing a notification for residents to refrain from taking baths, or flushing toilets for 36 hours on Wednesday the 5th of September, as the city’s wastewater system failed to cope with the amount of rain that had fallen almost continuously for 24 hours.

For the second time in less than 18 months, Napier City Council released stormwater and sewerage into Napier’s Ahuriri Lagoon, otherwise known as “Pandora Pond” after more than 90mm of rain fell in 24 hours between Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th of September.

That’s almost twice the average for the entire month!

Similar events occurred last April when the tail ends of Cyclones Debbie and Cook successively hit Hawke’s Bay hard and the City Council discharged 2.5million litres of wastewater into Pandora Estuary.

In both cases warning signs were erected around the estuary and immediate areas warning against swimming and the collection of seafood due to the public health risk of possible contamination from sewerage in the water and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the region’s environmental watchdogs were alerted.

Pandora Pond – Looking a bit murkier than usual after the heavy rains

“But how does sewerage get in the stormwater?” you might rightly ask.

It’s to do with infrastructure, namely pipes.

Ideally rain falls from the sky, onto your roof, into your spouting and into the stormwater system via gutters and stormwater drains / creeks and eventually into rivers / lakes / out to sea.

Unfortunately some spouting goes into the wrong drains around the house – Wastewater drains from bathrooms, showers, laundries, which gets treated with sewerage from.. um.. “other drains”.

During severe weather events, such as the one we’ve just gone through, having the wrong pipe going into the wrong drain can greatly increase the amount of wastewater in the system.

But Hastings and rural Hawke’s Bay had more rain than Napier did – at one stage I saw a reading of 191mm for HB, 66mm for Hastings and “only” 43mm for Napier in the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday.

So how come Hastings only started to feel the effects of the severe weather a day or so later, with Porta-loos distributed to some residents in the suburb of Akina, as their stormwater and sewerage systems stated to struggle?

From the makers of “Highway to Hell” and “Stairway to Heaven” comes “Driveway to Puddle”!

It could be something to do with Napier being coastal – The seas were certainly huge for most of the week and it would be hard for the water to drain out to sea when the sea is doing its best to get onto the land.

Marine Parade’s walkway was a mess on Thursday after high seas accompanying the storm battered the coast

It could be the fact we’re the lowest point above sea level in Hawke’s Bay.

Water naturally runs downhill and it might take a day or so of heavy rain for natural drains to back up the height difference between Napier and Hastings.

Or it could be that the city’s pipe infrastructure just isn’t up to it.

It has been known for some time that Napier’s water infrastructure was aging badly and in need of repair soon, if not overdue.

This has been the problem with Napier’s drinking water – It isn’t Hawke’s Bay’s aquifer quality being sub-par – The water down there is just as clean and pure as usual, it’s been council infrastructure – Bores, pipes and reservoirs letting the side down .

You might remember during the region’s contentious amalgamation debate and vote three years ago that Napier’s infrastructure was a rather large sore point.

I was strongly opposed to amalgamation, seeing the way it was promoted merely as a cynical attempt to sell off and/or privatise council departments (like water) and assets.

Amalgamationalists claimed Napier’s pipes were in a bad way and would likely cost many millions to repair / replace, while NCC’s vanguard staunchly defended its underground assets.

“Napier is very well positioned to meet any future infrastructure related growth or renewal challenges.”

“The short answer is Napier’s infrastructure, I can assure you, is in excellent shape.”
Napier Mayor, Bill Dalton. September 2015

It looks like council hierarchy might have, yet again, spoken too soon.

Even the NZ Auditor General’s office piped up, so to speak, on Twitter after this week’s rain referencing some 2016 stormwater analysis.

But the most odd pronouncement over the issue must go to the regional paper, Hawke’s Bay Today’s, new editor, who wrote on the weekend after the deluge that “A Wee Bit of Wee Never Hurt Anyone, We Hope ”.

That was just outright bizarre!

Has he not heard of Giardia? Campylobacter?
Has he not simply tried searching his own paper’s website for the words “Havelock” and “Gastro”?

His newspaper did win an award (albeit under the previous editor) for being “news central” for the Havelock North Water Crisis two years ago, after all.

Or maybe he just needs to talk to the mother whose child got sick after swimming in Pandora Pond.

Again, his newspaper reported on the incident.

Whichever way you look at it SOMETHING needs to be done – And QUICKLY!

After last year’s rain event and stormwater release the Regional Council said the deluge was a “Once-in-Five-Year” event, but had since scaled that estimation back to once-a-year”.

To its credit, Napier City Council has put aside over $20 million for refurbishing its water systems in the coming years, but after almost back-to –back yearly events, could it be too little, too late?

Our climate is changing (whether radio host Leighton Smith believes it or not) and the weather is getting more severe, more often.

Sea levels are expected to rise and Napier’s population is expected to grow by at least 2,000 households in the next ten years – Increasing the demands and challenges on infrastructure even more.

If we don’t do something to counter its effects fast, we face severe safety and public health issues and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s environmental regulatory department and some regional councillors have already aired concerns and displeasure with how Napier City Council management has dealt with these recent events.

Perhaps we could delay some of the council’s glamour projects, like the $45 million seafront Aquarium upgrade until we have the city’s water supplies going in and out the right ways.

After all, who will visit the refurbished aquarium if we’re all too sick, or washed away to get there?

In Hawke’s Bay Hurricanes Hardly Ever Happen

It’s not often you can say your city suffered from a lack of Hurricanes AND had it’s stormwater and wastewater systems overwhelmed by torrential rain yet again on the same day.

But today Napier did just that.

The lack of Hurricanes doesn’t refer to the weather event, even though the rain was indeed periodically torrential throughout the day.

(We didn’t even have an international cricket match scheduled for today, either!)

All Blow and No Go

Hawke’s Bay’s “Home” Super Rugby team, the Wellington Hurricanes, announced their home game schedule for the 2019 season.

Only one game is being played outside of Wellington’s Westpac Trust Stadium next year and that one game is being played in…

Palmerston North.

Yup, one game in Palmy and SEVEN in Wellington.

Nothing else.

It really is rubbish.

I think the only NZ team to play less “Home” games at McLean Park are the All Blacks.

The Hurricanes have played 11 games at Napier’s McLean Park since Super Rugby began in 1996.

That equates to an average of one game every two years, with stadiums in three cities – Wellington, Palmerston North and Napier to potentially choose from.

Napier hosted absolutely no super rugby games for 6 years – SIX YEARS! – between 2004-2010.

McLean Park was, admittedly, undergoing a major upgrade and grandstand build from 2007-2009, but it didnt stop other codes, like cricket, playing there during that time.

2011-2013 saw only one Hurricanes game, but TWO Crusaders “home-away-from-home” games in 2011 and 2012, after their home ground was
damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

No wonder the Taranaki Rugby Football Union left the franchise to join the Waikato Chiefs

It’s Not Us, it’s Them

As I’ve written before, some find it easy to Forget About Hawke’s Bay, but recently, as our awesomeness has become more and more apparent, that is becoming far less of an excuse and we are harder to ignore.

In 2016 Newshub ranked New Zealand’s 21 Best Super Rugby Venues, with McLean Park coming in at number nine (technically sixth, as Christchurch’s Lancaster Park, Wellington’s Athletic Park & Dunedin’s Carisbrook no longer exist) citing:

“Usually hosting just one Super Rugby match a year the games are generally
packed to the rafters with the locals reveling in a brief taste of top-flight footy.”

When this year’s Hurricanes match against the Durban Sharks at Mclean Park was announced this time last year one newspaper item began:

“McLean Park’s status as the Hurricanes’ home away from home appears in no jeopardy.”

It appears that bit of spin might have been writren with tongue firmly in cheek.

Losing Puff

This almost utter lack of faith in their regional, grassroots supporters is hard to fathom.

They can’t really claim it’s for financial reasons, as ticket sales from a packed McLean Park would obviously far out-do recent poor Wellington ticket sales, and the main reason for the Crusaders selecting Napier over their own venues in Nelson and Timaru was the income from ticket sales and the local support!

The Hurricanes could either pack out Napier’s McLean Park, Palmerston North’s Central Energy Trust Arena, and elsewhere in their zone repeatedly..

Or just keep playing over 85% of their games at an almost empty “Cake Tin” (Westpac Trust Stadium’s nickname, given its circular, metalic outer cladding) in Wellington and stoke the headlines that say Super Rugby is dying or dead.

Hawke’s Bay certainly hopes the competition doesn’t die, because we are currently producing the top high school rugby talent in the Hurricanes region, maybe even New Zealand.

We are keeping up our end of the deal, why aren’t the Hurricanes?

Hawke’s Bay deserves better!

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!?

Gooooooood Morning, Napier!

We have some visitors in Napier this week!

(TV) Three’s “The AM Show” is gracing our fair city as part of a tour they are doing with telecommunication infrastructure providers Chorus.

They have already visited Queenstown and Nelson, with a final stop in Rotorua following their last show here tomorrow (Wednesday, 11 July).

It’s been quite exciting for the city, which is usually only on the receiving end of simulcast media networks and completely ignored by some “nationwide tours”, having the show and Napier itself broadcast live to television screens around New Zealand from 6-9am each morning, as well as being simulcast on radio and across the internet.

Broadcasting from outside of Auckland allows the show to feature special items, news and people unique to each region.

So far in Napier they have featured an obligatory touristy Art Deco piece and mayoral interview, but also Hawke’s Bay success stories, like celebrating Flaxmere College’s educational excellence.

As of their second show they had yet to touch on thornier issues like the War Memorial and the city’s water woes, or asking for ratepayers’ opinions, then ignoring them, which I still feel deserve wider attention than they have gotten (“sunlight is the best disinfectant” they say..), but promoting Napier, Hawke’s Bay and all the awesome things we do and can offer and represent is a great way of promoting the region and attracting people here (the weather has been pretty stunning while they are here, too!).

And at least they haven’t (as far as I’m aware) committed the cardinal sin of adding a “the” to the front of our region’s name

I had promoted the idea of hosting such breakfast television shows in Napier, along with 30 other ideas to attract attention to the city five years ago in my “Month of Fun Days” post. I even used the post in a couple of applications for jobs promoting Napier.

I never got so much as an interview for the jobs, but I have seen a number of the ideas come to fruition in recent years, which while great to see, is also a bit of salt in old wounds (I haven’t received any credit for the ideas, nor assistance in making them happen myself).

Hopefully it’s just the first of many occasions where Napier and Hawke’s Bay take centre stage for all the right reasons!

On the Air This Week

Miracles DO happen!

After 22 years I will be behind a microphone and on the radio again!

I’ve been asked to be on Radio New Zealand’s “The Panel” on Wednesday 13 June as an actual panellist!

After making a few cameo appearances on RNZ last year (and a little bit of lobbying on Twitter) I was asked a couple weeks ago if I wanted to be on the show – I leapt at the chance!

Since then I have been doing my best to preserve my voice, which has not been easy, as winter ills have struck almost everyone around me and I have lost count of how many times I have been sneezed and coughed on or near.

EEEwww!!

It’s a great opportunity – Not just for me, but for getting some more exposure for Napier and Hawke’s Bay, which I don’t think gets the level of coverage it deserves nationally.

I’d like to give a big thank you to RNZ Afternoon’s Executive Producer Caitlin Cherry for the opportunity – I hope I don’t let her, or Hawkes Bay down (or swear on air..).

No pressure, eh?

You can replay my appearance on The Panel’s RNZ page HERE.