Hello My Name is Human

“What is wrong with me”?

It’s a question we have all asked ourselves from time to time.

“Did I say that out loud, or just think it?” “Did I say that in a normal speaking voice, or yell it and everyone is just being polite?”

Such little queries are often a constant companion. Some people ignore them, while for others these insecurities can consume them.

For the most part I am happy with who and what I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the occasional self-audit, or review / revision.

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Fortunate Son

My Mum and Dad had me quite late in life – Dad was 42, Mum was 37.

Spinster” was what was written in the “occupation” section of Mum’s section of their marriage certificate the year before I was born.

“Spinster”?!

Try calling a 30-something woman that today and see how many stitches you end up with!

Dowager Countess” must have already been taken in 1976.

This was the late 70s and a lot of the old attitudes and medical practices were still forefront. With my mother being an “older woman” there was a heightened chance I would be born with some form of disability, like Down Syndrome. Except they didn’t use that correct, technical name back then, they used the term “Mongol”.

I apologize for using that expression – I despise it, but I only used it to illustrate that it was something I was reminded of rather frequently for some odd reason. “You could have been a Mongol Child”.

My mother made a friend in the maternity home who had twins the day after I was born. One of those twins happened to be born with Downs Syndrome (and would later attend the Special Education unit at the same high school I went to), so maybe that was just some sort of constant reminder, or little voice of “what could have been” in my Mum’s head.

There were some worried moments when, as a child, I appeared to have a larger than normal head that required a trip or two up to Auckland Hospital for scans. But, as it turned out, it was just aware of how big I would be later in life and was getting a head start (ba-doom-tish!) on proceedings.

I grew up what generally qualifies as “normally” for an only child in the 80s – a time I remember very fondly, if not being quite lonely.

As I’ve written before television and my toys were my main friends early in life.

Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch influenced the levels of light and darkness in my world outlooks and the level and range of NZ-made television in the 80s inspired me to want to do it myself one day. It declared “We are New Zealand! We are stunning and capable of awesome things!”

School brought new challenges, but also new outlets.

As an only child you can become quite independent (you generally have to be) and very creative thanks to using your imagination to keep yourself busy or entertained most of the time.

It also meant I was a sponge for knowledge – I read and watched and listened to anything I could to keep myself amused, informed, or busy. I was a bit of a swot. It would pay off later in life when it came to quizzes, though.

My creativity took the form of writing (does it show?) and performance (mainly pretending to be presenting my own TV shows), things I excelled at until I discovered girls and those little queries started to speak up, making me think there might be something “wrong” with me.

Achey, Breaky Heart

I was a hopeless romantic when I was younger.

Well, “useless” would be a more accurate description.

I wouldn’t so much as hold a girl’s hand (other than when they had to in “social dancing” sessions of PE in high school..) until I was 21 and it was not for lack of trying!.

I shed numerous tears wondering why I was “unlovable” from Tamatea Primary School, right through to Tamatea High where I was sweet on several girls who had no interest whatsoever in this rather odd, tall, gangly young fellow.

Always the tallest kid in class, I was also always at the back, in the middle for school photos.

Perhaps the loneliness of only child-ness had just had enough, or maybe all the reading, watching and imagining had set too high a bar?

I’d read many books and watched many shows and movies about “true love” and “star-crossed lovers”.

I adored the romanticism of movies like “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, but was also somehow convinced I would be the one who “loved and lost” like Tom Hank’s character’s back story in “Sleepless in Seattle”.

John Hannah’s recital of W. H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” in Four Weddings was just so accurate and so heartbreaking. I included it as a reading at my Dad’s funeral.

I “tried too hard”, apparently, or “didn’t try hard enough”, or maybe it was just different mindsets? With having older parents and values perhaps things just wouldn’t align.

I’ve used the expression that “I think I was 35 for about 25 years” because it wasn’t until that age, by which time I was married and a new father that women seemed interested in me at all.

By then it was too late, of course, because my heart belonged to one lady and my soul to another tiny, new lady.

It just so happened that my engagement ring was The One Ring from the Lord of The Rings movie trilogy, but rather than putting it on making the wearer invisible, mine made me finally visible to the female populace.

Foreskin’s Lament 

“Unique” is probably the best word to describe me throughout my schooling.

“Tall” was another.

“Awkward” and “Dorky” would rate up there too. Basically any John Hughes era movie stereotype that wasn’t “Preppy”, or “Jock”.

My 90s New Zealand high school experience was nothing like those movie stereotypes, thankfully.

I was discussing the experience with a fellow old classmate a few months ago and we decided than, while there were still the general “Sporty” kids, the “Munters” and “Cool / 90210” kids at Tamatea High School from 1991-1995, there was nowhere near the level of extremity or tribalism you stereo-typically see in most (American) media of the time.

There was no hatred of different types. We all, by and large, got on and accepted each other, because these were still the same people you had spent the last 5-12 years going through school with.

I don’t think I ever fitted into any of the specific stereotypes, though, just floated around the periphery, occasionally temporarily osmosing into one cell or the other.

And I liked that uniqueness.

Maybe it was the only child thing – independence, or one’s self was the only thing I could totally rely on.

But it led to a moral conundrum: What am I?

Who am I?

What sort of person do I want to be?

I wanted to be my Dad. He was (and still is, even though he’s gone) my hero.

I was never the outdoorsy, or jack-of-all-trades type of person he was, but his moral compass always pointed true north and that’s what I aspired to.

In fifth or sixth form we did a school play (see, STILL love performing!) called “Masquerade” –  A big, song, drama and dance production about the masks we put on in life (just add teenage angst, stand back, cover your ears and brace for the shock wave).

One of the older students (It must have been 5th form, because I’m sure he was a couple years older than me) named Christopher Dann did a rendition of “Foreskin’s Lament” that was just captivating.

Chris was one of the students (I think he was Dux of his year) who was bound for great, oratory things – Either a lawyer, or investigative journalist / breakfast television host.

I still hear him delivering those last lines:

“What are ya?

What are ya?

WHAT ARE YA?!

<lights cut to black>”

I find myself asking myself that same question time and time again.

A self-audit.

So.

“What are ya?!”

What Am I?

Tall. There is certainly no denying that. 6’8″, or 2.04 meters in metric terms.

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This can make some things difficult: Legroom in cars and planes, long pants and big shoes can be difficult to come by.

While jeans that only come part way down your shins may be all the style at the moment they were the ultimate clothing faux pas when my growth spurts kicked into hyperdrive in the 80s and 90s.

Most people think doorways are my natural enemy and whacking my forehead on lower lintels is a concern. Not so!

As you get taller you learn to go through doors on the down-step, so if you do hit your head, it’s right on the crown and snaps the head backwards with a bright flash of stars.

Shorter people will never know the struggle.

My height also means being an asshole is never really an option. (not that it was ever in my disposition to begin with) – it’s not like I can easily hide away.

I prefer to be a BFG – a Big, Friendly Giant!

I smile at people in the street, help old ladies get stuff off the top shelves at the supermarket, that sort of thing.

“It’s better to be “always remembered” than “never forgotten”.”

Dad. The only thing I wanted to be in life was a good a father and husband as my Dad was. He was kind and caring. He never swore at, or abused me, even when he was angry with me. He was calm, measured and understanding.

We struggled to become parents, having to go through IVF and certain things, like having a “Testicular Biopsy”, were far from pleasant, but we got there in the end, and my daughter is the most wonderful girl and it constantly amazes me that she shares half my genes.

Maybe it’s the idol-status I have for my Dad, but it does lead to a level of insecurity that I’m not doing a good enough job.

Losing my Dad soon after our daughter was born was a massive hit for me. He was my biggest, most constant supporter. When I lost him I lost a lot of my confidence, self belief and motivation.

I’ve had the positivity of our wonderful growing daughter to spur me on and focus upon, but I lost my safety net, my support network. That has been very hard.

I’ve made sacrifices for my daughter and family (more on that later, but that’s just what a dad does, right?

I think my daughter gets a bit sick of me asking her if I do a good job, but the other day she said I was “the best Dad” when we were playing (no bribe or purchases required) so I guess I must be doing something right.

I can’t go past a good #DadJoke, either!

O

Loyal and Dedicated. I look after my family, friends and those who do the same for me. I love my hometown and region – it’s somewhere I’ve lived all my life, I love to see it thrive and succeed and want as many people as possible to know about it, so they can share the experience too. I do everything to the highest standard I can and see tasks through to completion.

While my cricket club recognized that this year, it’s been sadly lacking for a long time in other places.

Fair. I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong, fair and unjust and always railed against things I thought weren’t right. It has been a backbone of much of my writing and advocacy. I also believe everyone’s story deserves telling, not just a select few.

Creative. Writing, pictures, videos, models, dioramas, and occasionally woodwork are all things I enjoy. To make, or recreate something is really fun and something I love doing.

A Would-be Hawke’s Bay Media Magnate. I love writing. I love telling my own, others’ and Hawke’s Bay’s stories, be in in a blog, a video, or radio/audio format.

I also have the voice (and face) for radio.

So What’s Wrong With Me?

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”

Despite all those positives why can’t I seem to be happy, or feel fulfilled recently?

I haven’t had the easiest decade:

IVF, the birth of our daughter, the death of my Dad, buying our own house, a Global Financial Crisis, getting Mum into a care home, a month in hospital with a peculiar heart issue, Mum passing away, a world-wide pandemic, a growing child… Hardly a flat, calm sea!

Though, as someone pointed out to me years ago, life is like a heartbeat monitor – it’s supposed to have ups and downs. If it’s flat, you’re dead!

Gallows humor, certainly, but clinically correct.

I like writing and promoting my region and, by general consensus I am reasonably good at it.

My writing has achieved me some minor local renown over recent years, though as a PR friend told me a couple years ago “You picked the worst time to be good at it” given how many in NZ’s commercial news networks have preferred to gut local newsrooms and copy and paste irrelevant reckons from Auckland talkback radio hosts into regional mastheads as rage-click inducing “editorials”.

“Premium” is not the word for the constant enabling, monetization and multi-platforming of terrible, regionally irrelevant takes like these.

Despite my best efforts over the years, I have yet to gain promotional employment here in Hawke’s Bay, and whether it’s just the pandemic, or current direction of content, but I’ve only been commissioned for one piece of local writing this year, not that I’ve had a whole lot of spare time, or motivation to write.

I’m taking what chance I have now to get some thoughts on the page, as I’m having a week off before the run into Christmas and am working the few days between then and the New Year holidays.

My broadcasting aspirations were dashed early last year with the loss of local cricket commentary opportunities and yet more centralized personnel resourcing, with the same people who do the rugby, Olympics, America’s Cup, and all the other events out of Auckland given yet more opportunities to the detriment of everyone everywhere else.

What little exposure I had been very grateful to receive on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel also quietly ceased last year.

As far as I’m aware I never said or did anything wrong on-air, or off air.

It’s not like I used the platform to tout Covid conspiracy, or was eventually let go for leaking private patient details like one of their far more regular guests who was still on multiple times after I was given the heave-ho after only a few appearances.

I was told my removal from the Panelist lineup was because the broadcasting equipment from the Napier studio was redeployed so the network’s presenters could work from home during the Covid lockdown in 2020 (and, no doubt, further extended lockdowns throughout 2021 in Auckland where many of them are now based). Water damage and repairs from Napier’s flood in November 2020 also temporarily put their office out of action not long after.

However that didn’t stop other Panelists from being on the show via phone, Skype, or other means.

While I am fully aware Hawke’s Bay has some of the best internet coverage in New Zealand, it must have escaped their attention, until they had Janet Wilson beaming in across the broadband from Haumoana on the shores of Hawke Bay a few weeks ago.

Man, they must feel so silly…

But it’s not just my creative aspirations, or dreams of local media stardom failing me this year.

After over 17 years of doing my day job, despite requests for advancement or training across multiple bosses going unheeded, I finally had the chance to apply for the position myself.

I was short-listed with the new office graduate, who has been with us for about a yearm for an interview.

Management chose the graduate, because they have a relevant university qualification – Something I have never been given the opportunity to do through work, nor the time with odd and early hours of employment, or money with a family and mortgage to do of my own accord outside of work.

All my writing and media-ing is something I have been able to do after-hours of my day job due to its odd and often early hours.

I call it “Breakfast Radio / TV hours, but without the fame or fortune.”

It has provided a constant, secure income (throughout very insecure times) that has enabled me to support my family, buy a house, pay a mortgage and raise our daughter.

But now that she is getting older and more independent I feel like I can finally do something for myself.

The inability to realise my dreams, or even gain advancement where I have dedicated myself for years has made me feel like a failure, or that I’m being selfish or don’t deserve to do what I want to do.

It’s like the rejections and disappointments of my volunteering days coming back again, and they were devastating enough the first time.

I really am done with being constantly overlooked and undermined.

So what IS wrong with me?

It’s not a lack of talent, or skill, dedication, or work ethic.

I’m tired and sad, but I am doing what I can.

I’m only human.

A Pint-Sized Display

A while ago I wrote about my collection of Funko Pint Sized Heroes (“PSH”), Pop! figures and other pop-culture toys.

Over the last few years I amassed quite a collection and, rather than keeping them in a plastic bag in a draw, I wanted to display them, but had nowhere appropriate to do it.

So I decided to make something.

Cleaning up our woodshed one day I came across a pile of old, native Rimu wood floorboards:

 

There were enough, and of sufficient size, to make a display case for my PSH!

I measured them out, cut them to length and cut off the tongue and groove edges: 

 

I put a call out on Facebook for some kind of planer to tidy up the boards, and my old Tamatea Primary School friend, Mike Wyatt, put them through his thicknesser.

The gorgeous results had me moaning “Grains, GRAINS!” all zombie-like:

 

More cutting for plywood shelves to slide in and the potential for a Perspex front got us to the framing level:

 

A thin plywood back gave it some solidity and rigidity, too:

Now, to sort out what went where – Easier said than done with a rather diverse collection and several shelves. Do I dare mix DC and Marvel characters?

Do I organize via height, colour, or the order in which they were purchased?:

We had some left-over Resene Test Pots from rock painting and other art projects with my daughter, and one left-over pot was just enough to paint the interior of the display case:

 

A top coat of some metallic paint we used for highlight stripes in my daughter’s room a few years ago added some comic book pizazz to the finish:

 

A sheet of clear plastic from Napier’s Classique Plastics slid perfectly into place (after a little bit of extra chiseling – my carpentry is still far from perfect..) to keep dust off my collection:

 

And I glued each figure onto the shelves to avoid them all rolling about at the slightest bump:

 

The final result looks pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself:

 

As with my model tank and medal memorial display for Dad, I said I’m not the most handy of handymen, so I used to avoid doing stuff like this.

But after having a few little successes like these my confidence is growing and I have begun to genuinely enjoy working on them.

This may be just the beginning!

Come On, The Bay!

The Ranfurly Shield is the Hawke’s Bay Magpies’ for the summer again!

It really seems that when our provincial rugby team do well (especially holding “The Shield”), Hawke’s Bay as a whole do well (and vice versa)!

This is another great boost for our region that is already on the path to great things post Covid 19 lockdown and recovery this year!

I go on about Hawke’s Bay lots, but it’s because I believe in it & it believes in me!

It has been my life-long home, has allowed me to grow, live and raise a family.

It has given me an income, a home, and security in uncertain financial times, and wonderful friends!

It has a gorgeous climate, central location AND ULTRA-FAST BROADBAND!

I’m vocal because I feel we’re often ignored and looked down on because we’re not a cliquey Auckland corporate, or the Wellington “beltway”.

A new news website boss recently said nothing newsworthy happens in regional NZ.

Then his newsroom won an award for a story they did on the Oranga Tamariki child uplifts here in Hastings!

Our horticultural sector is world-leading, our wines, beers and coffees, restaurants and cafes national award winning.

The quality of our produce is only matched by the quality of the people we produce, hence one of our regional taglines: “Great Things Grow Here!

We work well with others:

We launch rockets into space in conjunction with Auckland-based Rocket Lab, which still amazes me 15 launches later:

We provide Tech hub support bases for Kiwibank, Xero and the home of Hawke’s Bay’s own award winning ISP: Now! 

Which is why I think the Magpies are such a great allegory for the region:

We punch way above our weight.

We are in the game for the full 80+ minutes.

If others drop the ball you’d better believe we’ll be there to pick it up and be over the try line before they’ve even noticed!

So please come to Hawke’s Bay!

Visit, stay, relocate!

After the Covid lockdown, even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s first domestic holiday destination was a #Baycation!

You’ll be amazed at just how diverse & wonderful we are!

With international travel currently off limits I know many social media friends who have only just visited Hawke’s Bay for the first time recently and loved it!

We may even let you have your photo taken with the Ranfurly Shield! 😉

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

Who Are You?

New Zealand commercial media’s fixation on “fame” and too few consumers have made it short-sighted and threatens its own future.

Radio New Zealand’s Wallace Chapman posted a picture on Twitter a few weeks ago praising NZ’s medical system after a member of his family suffered an illness.

This is something I can closely associate with having experienced and written about a similar experience a few years ago.

Mainstream media site Stuff picked up Wallace’s post and made a story out of it.

Wallace’s original Twitter post was soon removed, and fair enough.

The post’s quick removal would likely indicate Chapman didn’t know about the picture being used as a news story and he deleted it to regain some privacy.

While he is a public figure, Wallace and his family are entitled to a private life, and it’s called “Private” for a reason.

Being the caring, social, media Twitter is, Wallace’s situation received a lot of sympathy – several hundred “likes” and loads of supportive comments.

But you wouldn’t know that from the article, because the item chose to focus on how:

Celebrities > Sub-Editors / Proofreaders, apparently..

This isn’t the first time Stuff has blatantly ignored mere social media mortals like myself.

While I was annoyed at that NewShub incident, it wasn’t so much because I might have missed out on “a Warhol” (a “Fifteen Minutes of Fame” unit), rather it was the terrible “netiquette” of using something I’d written or explained without the manners to ask first, or give credit where it was due.

But it does go some way to highlighting how commercial media seem to have issues with their “Social” counterpart.

“Local news” used to be precisely what local media did – Local people and local issues.

But corporate takeovers and simulcast networking ripped the “local” out of local news.

New Zealand’s regional centres started hearing less and less about their own neighbourhood, and more about the big cities, where their papers’ and radios’ management were now based.

It would be like Auckland getting its news feed via Sydney.

But that doesn’t happen, does it?!

Many places, like regional New Zealand, just “didn’t matter” any more.

And neither, evidently, did regional New Zealanders.

Given New Zealand’s abysmal mental health and suicide statistics, it would be incredibly irresponsible of our media to reinforce a perception that half to two thirds of New Zealand (the proportion of NZ’s population that isn’t Auckland-based) “doesn’t matter”!

Along with this “Big City” focus came more attention on “Big People” – The “Noteable“, “Famous“, and “Celebrities“.

Not only could a majority of New Zealand media’s “target markets“, “demographics“,  “consumers” and “customers” (all big words those in the media like to throw around to justify ignoring local news) no longer identify with where items their media was producing were from, they now couldn’t identify with those who featured in them!

So regional New Zealanders, in their usual “Number 8 Wire Mentality” took to social media – creating their own, locally-relevant news sites on the likes of Facebook and broadcasting their local news and issues on Twitter.

I went to a talk on “Media in Hawke’s Bay” last year where the editor of NZME’s Hawke’s Bay regional paper criticised the likes of Facebook, complaining it took so much of the press’ business away from them.

Yet his paper seems perfectly happy producing stories online and in print that have been reaped from local Facebook pages and groups in the days and weeks before newspaper publication.

Such items are often then mocked and derided by commercial media stable-mates and staff for their “regional New Zealand-ness”.

But don’t get me started on that

Recently the head of one of New Zealand’s commercial news media networks had a public whinge via his own network platform at how they were struggling to survive, while semi-“State Broadcaster” TVNZ no longer had to produce a dividend to their shareholders (the NZ government).

“The small public broadcasting news operations and the commercial players can no longer provide enough news to keep our society healthy at a local and national level.” he said.

“Can no longer provide”?!

For the last 15-20yrs NZ’s commercial media networks have actively gutted regional coverage & newsrooms to increase profits for their big city headquarters & shareholders!

If half to two-thirds of New Zealand is good enough to be an income stream for these commercial media networks, then surely, MORALLY, they are good enough to deserve equal news coverage!

And you know what?

If media outlets started paying more attention to their local consumers again, then the locals might become more interested in buying their LOCAL paper/news content again, rather than turning to social media!

Businesses might even start advertising in traditional local media again!

But what would I know?

These network execs “experts” have been regurgitating the same things for years and years and expecting a different result.

And I’m just a writer from regional New Zealand.

I “don’t matter”.

But if I don’t matter, then:

 

 

Tūrangawaewae Tamatea

There’s just something special about sunsets over Tamatea, as the big, golden orb dips below the Poraiti hills..

Do many of my readers share a sense of Tūrangawaewae for an urban/suburban place?

I grew up in a Napier suburb called Tamatea.

I lived in the same house for 20+ years & went through school there.

While Mum & Dad’s house is now ours, it no longer feels like “home” (you know, once you leave..)

But going to the Tamatea shops DOES.

We’ve lived in Marewa for about 10 years now, buying our first home there about five years ago. But we stopped off to get takeaways from Tamatea on the way home from Taradale the other day and I just felt this..

Energy?

Nostalgia?

The shops are completely different now, from the days of Woolworths and Safeway, or when Tamatea had its own post office/ Postbank, video rental store, bookshop and dairy where you could get two sweets for 1c.

But the sky and the stunning sunsets are still the same.

I stood there, looking at the sky, heard children playing nearby, felt the warm breeze – all things that haven’t changed in 30 years and thought:

“Geez, I love this place!”

It reminded me of a piece I wrote that appeared in Hawke’s Bay Today around ten years ago.

Over the summer period (to save on paying their reporters to write more, I guess) they opened up to people’s memories of growing up in and around Hawke’s Bay.

My Dad wrote a piece about growing up around Lake Waikaremoana during his youth.

Inspired, I wrote about my more suburban, but just as memorable youth in Tamatea in the 80s.

Given my nostalgic bend then, here it is:

“Growing up in Tamatea”

While we lived, technically, in Pirimai West (the town side of Taradale Road), I consider myself a Tamatea boy. As that is where I went right the way through school, where we shopped and where all my friends lived.

Tamatea Primary was a wonderful place to learn. Mr. Cass, the Principal, had a great love of music and was very proud of his students.

Mrs. Greig, Stewart, Unwin, Whibley and local teaching legends Mr. Smith and Webby taught us everything we needed to know in a wonderful, caring environment.

The school had four ‘blocks’. Each set up in an open plan layout with four classes – one in each corner. Each block usually had two classes of the same standard (year) on either side, meaning that you would usually spend two years in each block:

‘A’ block was for the primers and contained the staff room. The mural on the Durham Ave side of ‘A’ block is the background for thousands of ‘80s school photos.

Always the tallest kid in class, I was also always at the back, in the middle for school photos.

‘B’ block was a pair of pre-fab classrooms for the slightly older kids, which Mrs. Stewart and Unwin occupied for as long as I can remember.

‘C’ block had a cool arts corner where you could spend ages peeling dried PVA glue ‘skin’ off you fingers to gross your friends out.

It also housed the school library where Mrs. Mansfield fed the imaginations of generations.
Even if that meant Asterix, Tintin and “Pick your own Adventure” books for some of us, it certainly started me on the road to bibliophilia.

‘D’ block was for the “big” kids and was the territory of Mr. Webby, whose glorious baritone voice could often be heard through the walls in C block as the great lion of a man taught his pride.

The playground was far different to the one there today.

Bumps and skinned knees were a regular occurrence, but didn’t matter. The old wooden fort that still remains, was a dirty brown and the high fireman’s pole and three chain bridge provided young thrill seekers with some “death defying” adventures.

The concrete mound opposite the fort posed as the enemy’s base for playing war and Mount Everest, with limestone rocks protruding, in adventure mode. The pipe tunnel that ran through it was graffitid and smelt kind of funny on Monday mornings for some strange reason, but that made no difference to our imagination-driven fun.

There were two great honours as a “big kid” at school.

One was being lunch a monitor, who got to help distribute bought lunches (a rare treat back then); the other was being a school patrol monitor.

While you started earlier and worked through rain, hail or traditional Hawkes Bay drought, you could have a Milo in the staff room after finishing your duty in the winter mornings. This made you feel REALLY big and important, for a ten-year-old, but also meant you were allowed to be a bit late for class. I was lucky(?) enough to be on crossing patrol during Cyclone Bola and vividly remember looking down Durham to Westminster Ave, watching the ominous clouds to the north.

Play and lunch times were fantastic. I discovered my love for soccer and cricket at Tamatea Primary (sadly, that’s where most of my sporting ability stayed).

As well as reading and music (first ever cassette album bought – Def Leppard “Hysteria”, first single – Pseudo Echo, “Funky Town”, so not the best of starts), girls and hopeless romanticism would also plague me for almost twenty years to come.

During a quiet lunchtime in C Block, a group of us staged a lip-synced Dire Straits concert. Complete with pianica keyboards, meter rule guitars, rubbish bin drum kits and screaming groupies.
It also featured crimes against fashion of which I will only say “sweatbands” and leave it at that. They were really good times.

Looking back at primary school, the funny thing is I never actually remember feeling ‘young’.

We always felt old and important.

There was learning to be done and it was our job to experience and squeeze every bit of knowledge we could out of life. The teachers encouraged us to learn and succeed, but more so to enjoy doing so and that certainly made our lives so much richer.

Outside of school, things got even better. Walking home we would cut across an open area that is now the delivery entrance for the expanded Pak n Save. This got really cool and muddy after heavy rain, and had lots of choice dips and jumps for bikes in summer.

The Tamatea shops were a mere shadow of their current size back then.

Woolies became Safeway and eventually Pak n Save in later years. Postbank sat out by itself in the car park. The bookshop, which was part of a string of small buninesses that stretched along where the checkout’s glass frontage is now sold Commando comics, Shoot and Match English soccer magazines as well as GI Joe’s.

I once got in trouble with Mum for being late home from school after spending half an hour pondering the merits of “Dialtone” the communications specialist vs. “Wetsuit” the navy diver.

The dairy, a ten year olds El Dorado, was the limitless source of one and two cent lollies, Kbars, Chuppa Chups and bubble gum trading cards.

Friday night meant late night shopping in town.

This was before Emerson Street’s paving redevelopment and Art Deco resurgence, so cars still drove up and down the street, which looked decidedly drabber than it does today.

There was a giant hole in the ground where demolition of the old ANZ bank had taken place and new construction was under way.

It was particularly spooky on dark winter evenings. A few years later, as mall construction got under way, the only way to cross the street was on plywood bridges.

Town’s highlight at the time was the multi coloured, lighted arches which criss-crossed Emerson St at the Hastings and Dalton Street intersections.

File photo from HB Museum collection

DIC/ Arthur Barnett / Farmers, Woolies / Deka and Brents Tots and Toyland in Emerson Street as well as Toyworld in what is now Ocean Boulevard were always popular stops.

Transformers, Star Wars Figures and Action Man for the boys, Care Bears, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Jem and the Misfits for the girls were all the coolest toys du jour.

Many of these toys are still stashed away somewhere safe today.

For a treat Mum and Dad took you to Mr Wimpy in Lower Emerson Street (a pre-cursor to McDonalds. One still operated in Rotorua I discovered many years ago), Kentucky Fried Chicken (we didn’t care about the “fried” part back then) in Carlyle Street, or Pizza Hut on Marine Parade.

Then it was off home to watch MacGyver, ALF, The Greatest American Hero and Magnum PI.

These great television days and are sadly missed.

The weekend started early on Saturday morning with Fraggle Rock and What Now (which screened on TV1 back then).

Danny Watson, Michelle and Frank Flash, then Simon Barnett and Catherine McPherson hosted the show through its golden age and kept us wrapt.

Super Ted, Inspector Gadget and Thundercats were as much a part of Saturday mornings as cornflakes and Weetbix.

After Saturday morning sports, perhaps a quick trip into town to get some groceries or an ice cream to celebrate a win (everything closed at midday Saturday and wouldn’t open again until Monday morning), then either home or over to mates’ places.

Lucky kids had either a Supertramp trampoline, or a Para pool.

Really lucky kids had both.

This would eventually lead to some death-defying (and knee scraping, tooth losing) jump-bounce-dive aerobatics.

While Mello Yellow, Fanta, Cheeseballs and Rashuns, flowed continuously, and provided some enlightening visions, especially when combined with too much, jumping, bouncing and diving…

Sleepovers were fantastic. There was usually a barbeque, terrorised pets and siblings and, inevitably, someone would get a blood nose from too much excitement.

Sundays meant a sleep-deprived trudge home, helping around the house and homework as a last resort.

The highlight of the day was always a Sunday drive.

Getting an ice cream and sitting in the car under the trees at West Shore beach, an unobstructed view allowing us to watch the sea lap the beach, with Napier Post and the hill behind, regardless of the weather.

It would have been great to remain a ten year old for longer, but time moves on and so do we.

In retrospect, most experiences growing up were vastly over rated when compared to their primary school expectations. Life took directions vastly different from what we could have ever imagined back then. Everything was possible and nothing stood in the way of a ten year old imagination.

If only such things could have remained longer.

Fortunate Son

How do New Zealand’s talkback “shock-jock” wannabes and their enablers honestly think this divisive “us” verses “them” / “the left” Trumpian, Fox News cant could hold any credibility in New Zealand?

Our nation’s “tyranny of distance” used to be a nice, safe vantage point from where we could see this mindless crap coming!

But not any more.

Words start and stop wars.

Books have stopped bullets.

So to weaponize words, to turn terminology toxic is a very dangerous and stupid thing to do.

In the wrong hands Aware/astute becomes “Woke“.

Polite and caring becomes “PC gone mad!”

And only “Snowflakes” show Empathy.

To say “(“The Left”) want to tell you what is right and what isn’t” is rich coming from someone whose high-paying job is to tell people across a nation via multimedia platforms how their opinion is superior to anyone elses, or how the likes of:

Cyclists,

The unemployed,

Public transport proponents,

And even members of parliament,

Are all wrong!

I consider myself on “the left” politically, but I don’t think I’m superior to, or know more than anyone else.

Mainly because I’ve been told so, or that feeling has been reinforced for decades upon me by the likes of this opinionist – Richer, whiter, more entitled people than I could ever be.

I don’t think I’m better than anyone. But I’m more fortunate than many.

I’m fortunate that I have a home and loving family.

I’m fortunate to be able to provide for that family.

I’m fortunate to have communication skills and access to platforms like Twitter and this site to share my views & opinions.

And I’m fortunate to realise mine is not the only opinion.

Others have different views to mine and they are allowed to express them.

I may not be as highly paid or widely broadcast as many of these malefic media mouthpieces, but I am more fortunate than they are.

Shine a Light

As you may know I’m BIG supporter of my home & region, Hawke’s Bay.

And, as you may also know, I’ve been pretty vocal about how little media exposure (other than disasters & crime) regional New Zealand has gotten over the past two decades in favour of an Auckland-centric focus.

In the last 5 years we saw the rise of smaller news websites like Spinoff & Newsroom, intended to take on the likes of TVNZ, Mediaworks & Herald/NZME.

I had high hopes for these new sites, given how little the main players cared about places like Hawke’s Bay.

I was disappointed.

Early on it seemed Spinoff had more articles about NZME’s Jane Hastings than the actual city of Hastings.

To them apparently one media person > City of 80600+

And if not for the wonderful, award-winning autobiographical writing of the late Peter Wells, Napier would have hardly featured at all.

Hardly inspiring for this regional reader and writer.

Not to be out done, Newsroom’s Mark Jennings essentially declared NZ’s regions don’t matter:

“Viewers in Invercargill don’t give a toss about Whanganui’s sewage problems.

There are simply not enough stories of national significance in Nelson or Queenstown or Tauranga to justify a full-time TV reporter in those areas.”

That understandably pissed me off.

The new wunderkind websites had the same mentality as the old media dinosaurs they were meant to be superior to.

It felt like they were blowing the biggest opportunity New Zealand media had had in years – Wherever there was internet access they could have had reporters!

Within the last month the New Zealand government recognized the country has a serious lack of local-body news coverage – particularly in regional NZ and announced a scheme to put several specially focused, government-funded reporters in established newsrooms around the country.

Then last week a story with major public reaction & national implications broke about state carers taking newborn babies from their parents.

The story wasn’t broken by a mainstream media outlet.

It was broken by Newsroom.

And the story wasn’t based in Auckland. It came from Hawke’s Bay.

My region.

So I’ve been right all along?!

NZ regional news DOES matter!?

This should feel like vindication for me, but it doesn’t.

How many issues have been missed because they were “regional/provincial” and “didn’t matter”?

How many wrongdoings could have been stopped?

Jennings’ hypothetical Whanganui sewerage problems?

Homelessness?

Inequality?

This is just the tip of an iceberg New Zealand media SHOULD have started melting years ago!

Heck, in the 80s we had regional news in print and on national TV every weeknight that stopped these bergs from forming in the first place, let alone making it out into the shipping lanes and causing casualties.

We have regional stories that deserve coverage, as many have national implications; A specialized regional local government reporter program in the works, and a Provincial Growth Fund to assist NZ’s growing regions.

Isn’t it time NZ’s commerical media refocused back on the regions, too?

There’s a saying goes:

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

Regional New Zealand has a whole lot of growth going on. Not all of that growth is going to be good.

It’s going to need a lot more solar energy from traditional & digital NZ national media to keep regional growth rot-free!

Regional Rugby’s Lament

Listening to the talk of NZRU CEO, Steve Tew’s, resignation annocement on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report the other morning I was irked by how much his / NZRU’s focus was on the international game & stage under his tenure, while it’s felt, like with so many other big New Zealand corporate organisations, regional / grassroots rugby has been ignored under his tenure.

How many Super Rugby, or even All Blacks games (Napier has hosted only two in 20yrs!) could have been played in sold-out, 15,000-20,000 capacity regional stadiums like McLean Park, rather than the regularly 1/2 – 3/4 empty Eden Parks, or (Wellington’s Westpac Trust Stadium) “Caketins”?

Main centre Super Rugby fixture crowds have been pitiful and/or declining for some time, and the whining about low attendances from rugby bosses has only gotten louder, yet do they change tack and spread the games around?

Hell no!

HOW MUCH??!!

Hawke’s Bay and their NPC team, The Magpies have been fortunate to have the local support, income and success over recent seasons to weather the storms Tew bemoaned.

Hawke’s Bay, its team and its fans have been regularly providing the talent, the turnout and the income for Tew’s organisation for years, so why haven’t NZRU returned the favor?

Or, under Mr Tew’s reign, has rugby in New Zealand become more about the money than the mana?

Rocket, Man!

“Three, two, one, blast-off!” A screen-grab of Rocketlab’s most excellent live stream service just a few moments before I courl see it with my own eyes!

Note: This piece appeared as a “Talking Point” in Hawke’s Bay Today on May 7 2019.
It is a combination of two posts I wrote on this site over the previous months, but I felt they worked even better when moulded together.
It proved very popular – I even received an email from Rocket Lab thanking me for writing it and they sent me a goody bag to show their appreciation.
I was just stoked that my own region has joined the likes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and Bozeman, Montana (for you Trekkies out there) in pioneering aeronautics!

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 9-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.

The 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 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 three years ago and then mum died last February.

I started looking at the 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” (she usually chooses what is actually the planet Venus, but whatever).

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.

And so it was I found myself staring skyward twice on Sunday, May 5.

It started with a cold, dark, 5am start and me standing out in my back yard catching a dozen glimpses of “shooting stars” – as the annual Eta-Aquarids Meteor Shower was at its most visible in the eastern sky.

We spent our daylight hours out and about around Hawke’s Bay going to Anderson Park playground and Ahuriri beach in Napier, and Keirunga Park Railway in Havelock North under stunningly clear blue, autumnal Hawke’s Bay skies.

As we drove back to Napier from Havelock North along Marine Parade there was a clear view north and east across Hawke Bay towards Wairoa and Mahia and we remembered there was to be a Rocket Lab launch that evening.

Sure enough, as 6pm rolled around we watched the live-stream of the launch countdown and lift-off on YouTube, then headed outside to where I had seen the meteor shower 13 hours before and with the benefit of a darkened evening sky we, along with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people around Hawke’s Bay saw a very bright red-yellow light slowly rising in the eastern sky – Hawke’s Bay reaching for the stars!

As little as 10 years ago I couldn’t have imagined that I would be standing in my back yard watching rockets being launched from a Hawke’s Bay site, but here we were.

This was very cool and I must admit to even shedding a proud tear or two, because this has long been the sort of thing I have written about, expected and hoped for from my Hawke’s Bay home.

For my 5-year-old daughter this is hopefully her new, very spectacular, normal.

It may not have been the first Rocket Lab launch, but it was certainly the most visible and symbolic for our region.

Just as The Spirit of Napier reaches for the rising morning sun on Marine Parade, here was Hawke’s Bay launching satellites into space.

In 2014 National government finance minister Bill English had the audacity to say, while on a visit to Napier:

“Hawke’s Bay’s seasonal low-wage economy isn’t going to change in a hurry, so let’s get good at it”.

How wrong he was.

While New Zealand’s Auckland-centric commercial media networks still obsess over surreal estate prices, traffic issues and radio announcer reckons, Hawke’s Bay has been quietly thriving, growing and reaching for the stars!

No longer the butt of that snide Auckland slight “A visitor from Hawke’s Bay” at Metro Magazine-covered parties – With tech hubs, call centres, as well as a rocket launch facility, “A Visitor TO Hawke’s Bay” is becoming something people aspire to as our region becomes an even more attractive place to live, raise a family or open a high-tech, or web-based business.

I’m looking forward to watching more Rocket Lab launches on clear winter evenings and New Zealand being reminded of just how astronomical Hawke’s Bay’s future will be!