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!

Long Train Runnin’

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

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

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

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

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

This was a dream come true!

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

I mean, come on, they are SO COOL!

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

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

 

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

Was I?

Hells, Yeah!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without Shoe

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

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

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

NO!

We Don’t!

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

Thirdly is pronunciation, or is that “pronounciation”?

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

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

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

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

Sound TO ME like:

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

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

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

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

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

It got me thinking, and singing to myself.

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

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

Without Shoe:

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

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

Without shoe.

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

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

Without shoe.

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

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

Without shoe.

Baby I’m Amazed By You

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

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

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

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

And not just her’s.

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

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

An 80s childhood at its best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will always be there for her.

Even when she doesn’t want me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She might even need to bring them for me!

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

But it’s worth it – She is amazing!

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.