Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stans Palace?

Museum Musings

The Kaipara and Whangarei districts might be close neighbours, but in some respects they are worlds apart. In my view, this can be seen most clearly in the way run their museums and how successful they are.

You would think that the Whangarei District Council, with much more income from rates, would have the best of everything. Sure enough, they do have a very fine library and some amazing parks and beaches, but when it comes to museums, the tables are turned and the Kaipara District wins hands down.

Kaipara museums are self funded and cost the ratepayer very little. The Whangarei museums, on the other hand, have been receiving bucket loads of rate payer funds and yet only manage to attract a tiny fraction of the huge amount of tourist traffic passing thru’ the city. Even locals don’t seem visit them often, so I find myself asking - what has gone wrong?

The most obvious reason appears to be their buildings and locations. The ‘Museum & Kiwi House’ (ex “Regional Museum”) occupies a leaky building on State Highway Fourteen, and well away from the CBD and tourist rich State Highway One. The Clapham’s Clock Museum is crammed into a small space that it shares with an information centre. It is struggling to utilise its potential by being away from the CBD and SH1. The Art Museum is also in an isolated situation and housed in an inappropriate building that is hard to access if you travel by a tourist bus. Being located in the shade of a large office block does not help its cause either.

I recently had the chance to discuss the plight of Whangarei’s museums with the mayor, Stan Semenof and Mark Simpson (CEO), in the mayor’s office at Forum North. I had some suggestions of my own that might help, but they made it quite clear that the conversion of the old Regional Council building (at the Town Basin) into a Hundertwasser inspired Art Museum would be the master stroke to get value from ratepayer funding of museums.

They showed very little interest in anything else and I can now see why their efforts and those made by the other Whangarei museums, are failing to get ASB Trust or Government support for their projects. To put it bluntly, the residents of Whangarei are failing to get their act together as a community to preserve and present to the world, their own cultural and material heritage.

The Kaipara museums obviously do not have this problem and it seems to me that this illustrates very clearly the old city and country differences that have been with us ever since the dawn of civilisation. It all boils down to a matter of quite different attitudes held on each side of the divide.

In the country, people learn to help one another out because they know that it is the mutual arrangement needed when community resources are few and stretched over a wide area. In urban areas, most residents learn to often expect someone else to help out – after all, “isn’t that what taxes and rates are all about,” I hear them say. Indeed they are, but as you can see, without strong and united community support, a lot of money can be wasted by bureaucrats.

Judging from the recent headlines in The Northern Advocate about sewerage being dumped in the harbour, Mayor Semenof has more urgent matters to attend to these days. Before he died, Hundertwasser designed a waste disposal plant in Austria that ran on its own energy. Perhaps one of his inspired designs could be used in a new sewage treatment plant here.

If Kawakawa can attract tourists to visit a Hundertwasser toilet, just imagine what an impact a monumental ‘Hundertwasser Toilet’ for the whole of Whangarei would have. In times when the council is not so flush with funds, this idea might be right on the button!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Matter of Fat

A Matter Of Fat

Food seems to be on my mind lately and I was interested to hear on the news that the Japanese Government is planning to penalize people they classify as being dangerously overweight. In order to stem the rise in heart attacks, they are going to employ obesity wardens to spot check people on the street and issue fines for those exceeding the officially healthy height to weight ratios.

I wonder if the idea will catch on here? If it does, then I know of one small town, I visited recently, where the residents had better head for the hills.

Kaiaua is situated on the coastal route out of Auckland on the way to Thames and it proudly boasts to be the best place to buy fish and chips in New Zealand. Now, I cannot claim to be a skilled judge in deciding which greasies are best, but on the day I visited the Kaiaua Fish and Chip Shop, it was overflowing with enthusiastic customers.

While I stood in the queue, I had time to take a look around the place. I soon found myself becoming very self-conscious about my appearance, because I noticed that I was the only letter “I” in a paragraph of “O”s. At almost every table, were some of the fattest people I have ever seen. The shop was packed with families and couples ploughing thru’ mountains of chips, hamburgers and battered fish. Even the kids were bursting at the seams and looked like mini versions of their corpulent parents.

To avoid staring at them too much I gazed out of the front window at the view. By the beach, I could see some contractors standing around their vehicles having a smoko and all of them were portly to say the least. The sign attached to one of their trucks appropriately read… “Oversize”.

After my meal, I went next door to the Bay View Hotel for a game of snooker and a beer – sure enough, the majority of the crowd were just the same. There were, thankfully, a few more of my build (which is on the slim side) to make me seem less obvious. Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves as they swayed and danced with the music and I began to wonder why I was so concerned about a diet that experts say is such a health hazard.

I have often heard Auckland described as the “Polynesian Capital of the World” and I think many other Kiwis might be picking up some of the lifestyle too. In a traditional Polynesian society being XXOS was very acceptable because it indicated you had risen high enough to be able to avoid physical labour.

Today, we have machines to do much of the hard work and so, in a way, we can now all be aristocrats. If people use their physique to celebrate this, then unfortunately, I am going to be always in amongst the disadvantaged – no matter how much I eat, I will never get near the ‘Pacific Norm’ in body shape.

Somehow I will have to accept gracefully my newly undersized position of being at the bottom of the ‘peckish order’ or get a stomach enlarging operation of some sort so I can look like Gerry Brownlie or the Hon. Parekura Horomia.

Then again, as this is an election year, it might more prudent to hold off until we see who wins. If the economic situation worsens internationally, lean and mean could well be fashionable again.

I can imagine people like parking wardens would jump at the chance to take part in the battle of the bulge. I can see them leaping out, Japanese style from behind cars and dishing out instant fines for being over the limit. Come to think of it, I have got the build for a job like that, but I think it would be too stressful punching tickets above my weight.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Feeding Bad Habits

Feeding Bad Habits

You might have noticed that he news is getting serious again, now that Winston Peters has ceased appearing in the headlines. The worried faces of world leaders say it all. The credit crisis can no longer be ignored and governments are trying to prevent us all from being splattered with deregulated banking effluent.

Are we really going to see the end of the golden weather of excessive consumption and have to brace ourselves for the chilly winds of austerity? When I think about that prospect, I can see many of us behaving like that desperate little character called Scrat in the animated film “Ice Age”.

Just like him, we might be forced to try and out run the avalanche of ice before it buries us and our precious acorns - (savings) in an icy tomb. I hope I will have more luck than he did!

The dreaded “D” word is being used more often these days and so I have been re-reading a book I bought from the discarded book pile at the library some time ago. It was written in the nineteen seventies by the economist W. Rosenberg, who gave it the title, “What every New Zealander should know about THE COMING DEPRESSION and how to overcome it.”

He predicted the economic meltdown we are experiencing and suggests that one of the ways out of it could be to implement the ideals of Democratic Socialism. This means that governments will need to nationalise failing businesses and increase worker participation in shareholding equity and management.

This scenario reminded me of a story about two landless peasants in Chile who are discussing the election victory of the new democratic socialist government led by Salvador Allende. Pedro says to Miguel, “Hey Miguel, my old friend. In a truly socialist country we will at last share the wealth of the land – is that right?” “Si, that is so Pedro.” Miguel replies. “Does that mean we will share all the land?” Asks Pedro. “Si Pedro, that is so,” says Miguel. Pedro continues on with, “All the cows and sheep?” “Si, Pedro.” “All the chickens?” Miguel pauses for a moment and then turns angrily to point an accusing finger at Pedro and says, “You know I have chickens! The only way you will get your thieving hands on them is over my dead body!”

In my lifetime, I have seen two economic theories fail. First to go was Communism and now we are experiencing the failure of Monetarism.

It seems to me that Communism was a great idea, but it ignored the need for most people to own things and control most of their own economic activities. It also lets tyrants get into power and exploit the people for their own advantage.

Monetarism also appears to be too idealistic, because it believes that people will make the right economic decisions if there is minimal regulation and the least amount of government interference in their lives. I think it is failing, because it allows some people to ruthlessly exploit the system to the point of social break down.

If governments followed monetarist principles, then in the present situation, the banks would be left to collapse and we might have to fall back to bartering as a way of exchanging goods and services.

Rosenberg published his book almost exactly thirty years ago, when we had much more government involvement in our local economy and we were more prosperous in comparison to other economies. If he was alive today, then I am sure he would suggest that we might have to restore that involvement to remain economically and socially stable.

However, as our banks are now mainly Australian owned I wonder if the next government will buy into them or bankroll their opportunist foreign lending by issuing bonds and government guarantees. Either way, Labour or National are hopefully going to employ an “ism” that works – pragmatism

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fridge Messages


I know summer has arrived when I enjoy the pleasant sensation of cool air wafting down over my toes every time I open the fridge door. Apart from storing the usual culinary necessities, my fridge also acts as a message board, with notes tucked under plastic animals and holiday souvenirs.

One of the messages says, “Your brain simply believes what you tell it most, and what you tell it about you, it will create.” I had not thought about the possibility of my brain being separate from me before and it sounded implausible. However, I changed my mind when Norman, an old school friend from Wellington, came to visit me a few years ago.

Norman was never, what most people would consider “normal”. When I look back I can see it was like having Mr. Bean as a friend. In fact he even looked like Mr. Bean. He stuttered terribly at times but this disappeared completely when he was on stage doing a comic routine, which usually brought the house down with laughter. His Speech Therapist tried in vain to help him and gave him a roasting once for being late. He had the best possible excuse when he replied. “I was at the speech comp-p-petion and I came ss-second!”

I can blame Norman for my interest in cartooning. I used to watch in awe as he drew pictures almost as good as Mad magazine’s Mort Drucker when all I could manage was something similar to Peanuts. These days he makes a living out of playing piano and sketching cartoon portraits at bars and pubs. He tops this up with a benefit, which is assessed once a year (hence the above cartoon) and helps him when he is unwell.

As we sat on the verander reminiscing about our school days, he let on that he ounce got a job in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. He said you can see him in the movie disguised as an Orc and he revealed some details of how they enabled him to put some realism into the agonized behaviour featured in some scenes. Apparently, it was not a job for the incontinent. Norman was put into a rubber costume and had to wait several hours before his scene was shot. He had no way to relieve himself and he thought that he was going to burst. “In this Orc- ward situation it was a case of mind over bladder” (he loves puns) and this gave the battle scenes an extra edge.

In the world of artists and craftspeople it is common to find people like Norman treading the boundary between the land we like to call Sanity and the Great Unknown. Ever since I met him forty years ago I can never predict what he will say or do next. Just before he left he made some remarks about that note on my fridge. After he read it he said, “You know, I have no trouble talking to my brain - it’s when it talks back I get worried”.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Matariki / Solstice

Matariki and Winter Solstice

While I was writing this article, the sun dropped to its lowest position in the sky and began to stay a little longer each day. Something deep within me says that we should be celebrating this event in some way, just as my ancestors must have done like the Russian performers in the above cartoon.

Many Kiwis feel a similar need and are increasingly celebrating Matariki at this time of the year by taking the opportunity to participate in cultural activities and to think about the year to come. Maori culture is rooted to the earth of this country and I am glad it reminds us about the place we actually live in and how the stars reveal a useful way to track time and the rhythms of Nature.

A few years ago, I used to fire up a Winter Solstice bonfire every winter and invite friends over for a mug of mulled wine, music and fireworks. One year it grew into a larger musical event and local farmers cooked a hogget on a spit over embers from the bonfire. The meat had been hung for a couple of days and it was so tender and full of smokey flavours, that it was hard to believe we were eating mutton.

I have often wondered why this sort of celebration was not more common here. One possible explanation could come from the fact that many New Zealand immigrants came from industrial societies where people were cut off from the land and encouraged to work night and day to buy things thought necessary for a better life. There was little time for much else, apart from holidays (holy days) like Sundays, Easter and Christmas that were jealously guarded by the Church. Another factor might also be our protestant churches taking a dim view of any activity that might be seen as ‘pagan’.

At one stage, I got very interested in Easter as well and when my daughters were young I took them out one Easter Saturday for some ‘Pace Egging’. This is a very old English custom that, even today, still sees musicians and singers going from door to door performing in exchange for Easter eggs and beer (in some areas Pace Egging includes a kind of bowls using decorated eggs which is also fun to do).

I rang around my friends and people I knew, to arrange for beer and eggs to be ready at each stop. My eldest daughter thought this was very embarrassing. No way was she going to dress up and do such a “stink” thing. But she came along anyway at the last minute.

After a few visits, her eyes lit up at the sight of all the easter eggs the other children were getting and soon joined in. We finished the pre-arranged visits and she got so enthusiastic she begged me to keep going. I agreed to do one more and so we visited Jeanette, a recently widowed farmer, whom I thought could do with some cheering up.

Jeanette was certainly surprised to see us and invited us in to meet some guests from Chile who were on a study tour looking at local dairy farms. We did our thing and the Chilean farmers jumped up shouting something like “Bueno, estupendo! Their interpreter came over and said, “Back in Chile We do just the same sort of celebrations every year - I didn’t know you Kiwis did such things!”

“Neither did I!” replied Jeanette looking very puzzled, “We don’t normally.” Perhaps it is time we did – to make the seasons mean something and get to know our neighbours a little better instead of pushing the ‘On Button’ to enter the electronic world of the computer and TV.

Fools Pools

Taking The Plunge

Harry was no wimp. He prided himself on maintaining old school Kiwi values – hard work, hard play, and facing life’s challenges with stoical determination. Now that he was retired, his wife Mavis often said he should ease up a bit; but he knew that tempting prospect was not for him.

Sport had always had a prominent place in Harry’s life and altho’ Sky TV was very entertaining, he believed that there was nothing better than doing it yourself. Harry got a real buzz when Mavis said that he had the physique of a man half his age; but lately, he felt that the dreaded middle-aged spread was beginning to show. Even holding his breath in front of the mirror, could not hide the fact he was losing the ‘Battle of the Bulge’.

Harry’s best mate Fred did not seem to have this problem and yet he downed as many beers as Harry did at the local. So he asked Fred how he managed this. Fred replied, “No worries, I just work it off in the new swimming pool at Selwyn Park”. Harry decided to take the plunge and join him there every week. The only drawback was that Mavis said “You must be kidding!” when he asked her to come along too in the winter.

The new pool was ideal, fifty metres long and uncovered. Hardly anyone went there during the cooler months and very often they had the pool to themselves. It was refreshingly bracing and after the staff had carefully skimmed off the dead leaves, it was perfect.

That was until Fred gravely announced at the pub one night that the Council was going to close the pool for half the year due to a lack of patronage. Fred put it down to some joker writing to the paper, labeling the new pool as the “Seldom Parked Pool”.
“We can’t let them get away with that!” said Harry. “Too right mate” Fred replied. “We have formed an action group to somehow get some hard cash coming in to help the Council fend off the Bean Counters. It was a bit touch and go for awhile, but we think we’ve got it sorted.”

Fred finished off the jug of beer and continued. “You see, all we had to do was a bit of lateral thinking. Dargaville needs more than just an Olympic sized pool to put it on the map and guess what, I hit on the solution while I was watching the news on telly. It just so happens that the Singapore Zoo is looking to find a home for its two polar bears, Sheba and Inuku. I know how stinking hot it can get there and they would be much happier in a cooler climate like ours. We reckon we can get them over here at no cost to the ratepayer and negotiate with the zoo to cover all the costs of travel and alterations to our new pool.”

Harry looked like a stunned mullet and needed time to think. Recovering, he turned to Fred and then said in a voice that had heads turning all along the bar, “If you think I am going to share the pool with bloody polar bears you must be raving mad!”

Fred appeared not in the least concerned. “Calm down mate.” He said with a sly grin. “It’ll be ok, these bears are hand raised and wouldn’t hurt a flea… aah, as long as they’re well fed of course. Anyway, they won’t be using the pool much because they tell us the bears sleep most of the time. When they are awake, there will be extra spin offs for the Olympic training squads. Just imagine the performance improvements when the kids see a polar bear just behind them when they enter the last lap. Once the records start being broken, we’ll have them flocking here from all parts of the country to get a slice of the action. I tell you what mate, it’s a win, win solution.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Finding The Perfect Woman

Finding A Perfect Woman

When my marriage ended, I thought that I would be far happier as a bachelor. There are times tho’ when my natural inclinations get the better of me and I start looking for another partner.

I am in this frame of mind at the moment and I have taken an interest the competition being run by ‘The Bullock Bar’ in Wanaka, to find the “Perfect Woman” next Labour Week-end. What are they looking for, someone to compete with Miss New Zealand? No way! This competition is strictly rural and most glamour pusses will have a tough time competing.

This “Perfect (Southern) Woman” has to know how to back a trailer, put in fence posts, open a bottle of Speights without a can opener, fit snow chains, blow a dog whistle, move a large ram over to be shorn and still be able to darn socks. I would have thought that these tasks would be enough to put every woman off, but if you believe their website, it appears they have more applications than they can cope with. In fact, they claim to be so successful that have been able to get the winners on TV and get world-wide coverage.

One of the winners was asked the inevitable question, “What kind of man would be your “Perfect Man”? She replied with charming sincerity, “Oh my dad would be – he taught me most of what I know.” As I am probably close to his age, her comments make me think that there must be more young women out there who would appreciate a fatherly person like myself as partner.

On the down side however, there is the likely prospect of being like our ex Prime Minister David Lange and leave behind a fatherless child when I die. Also, in the not too distant future, how long would such a relationship last when all I had to offer was my grandfatherly appeal?

When I saw the movie promos for the new Pixar movie ‘Wall E’, it made me think that perhaps I would be better off putting an order in for an android woman. There would be plenty of time to develop the technology and the market demand is bound to increase as all the Baby Boomers hit retirement age.
I would give my one the name of Andromeda and have her especially programmed not to complain about overdue household chores, lawns that need mowing and my unique taste in clothing. On the positive side, she would need a sense of humour to laugh at my jokes and praise my creative endeavours as timeless masterpieces.

Then again, if she did develop her own sense of humour I would have to keep in mind the prophetic words of Arthur C. Clark (author of 2001 A Space Odyssey), when he wrote, “You’ll know when an artificial intelligence has consciousness when it can make a joke and laugh at it.”

Hang on a minute! A robot like this might be just as bad as a human partner. We might end up in a situation where we have irreconcilable electronic differences and I find myself taken to the cleaners in a court set up to sort out ‘Matrixonial Property’ disputes.

How would I cope if I had to front up to a tribunal of androids to keep all my worldly possessions? Would they sentence me to therapy sessions or other more sinister means to de-programme my tendency to indulge in electronic abuse?

I could end up paying alimony forever. I know how expensive it is to keep a computer operational and the mind boggles at the thought of maintaining a machine as complex as a robot. Somehow bachelorhood is now looking decidedly attractive as the best option. I can continue to live a more relaxed natural lifestyle and dance to the beat of my own drum – unplugged.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Food For Thought

Food For Thought

The only enjoyable thing about my regular visits to the dentist is the chance I get to read magazines I cannot usually afford to buy. He often has well thumbed copies of National Geographic, Time, North & South, Surfing magazines and of course The Woman’s Weekly which I furtively flick thru’ to catch up with celebrity gossip.

On one of my visits, I read an article on health there and along side of it was a photo showing vegetables grouped together in the shape of a human face. It was titled “You Are What You Eat”.

This picture took me took me back to my childhood when I remember looking at a very similar poster in “The Murder House” at my primary school. It looked very sinister at the time and I was (alas) not very impressed with the health message. After all, who in their right mind, would cut back on eating enjoyable junk food just to have legs like parsnips, a pumpkin face and Afro-style broccoli hair. I thought a far nicer composition would be made of pies, chippies, sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks.

In those days, the dental health poster was a piece of imaginary promotion. However, recent advances in genetic in engineering (GE) are bringing us closer and closer to actually making it possible to change the appearance of every living thing (including ourselves). We are now able to tamper with the building blocks of life and a fierce debate is raging about how far we should go.

So far, New Zealand has resisted the temptation to use genetically modified seeds commercially, despite the fact that this practice has spread to most countries across the world. There are field trials being carried out here, but the decision to release the modified seeds has yet to made.

We should be safe then, from eating food that is contaminated with genetic combinations that are totally new to nature. Not so, because if you look a bit more closely at many familiar New Zealand brand named goods on the supermarket shelves, you will see in small print that they are no longer made here.

More and more of our food is being imported from countries like China where there are few controls over quality. Growers in New Zealand, on the other hand, have to contend with many more regulations and quality controls. These can make the goods pricey and so make the imported competition appear more attractive.

The Greens want to see packaged and fresh produce clearly labeled on all food produced by New Zealand companies or imported here direct. The Government has said no to this and to my mind, it shows how powerful the commercial sector lobby is. It is ok apparently, to be GE Free in principle but in practical terms we have all probably eaten GE food by now and our intake is likely to increase if international corporations continue to have their way. They know full well that GE content on labels would be a financial disaster for many food processors.

Obviously, I am no fan of GE and I am pleased to live in an area where the Mayor feels the same and intends to discourage any commercial GE activity in our local agriculture.

If GE crops do eventually creep in, what will be the consequences when this new technology is all around us? I foresee an initial boost in productivity and then a very complicated ecological reaction that will cost a great deal of money to sort out when it goes wrong.

DNA testing for the police is already becoming a routine activity and I wonder how they are going to cope when forensic analysis suggests that they look for a suspect with – ‘’fishy eyes, toad like posture, and a tomato complexion”. Mind you, I can think of some locals who already fit that description. I wonder what they eat?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Crimes Of Punishment

Crimes Of Punishment

I can tell from my radio that the Election must be getting quite close now. Each day begins with a rising dawn chorus of cackling politicians trading accusations in the media and making calamitous predictions if they do not get into power.

The Polling Bird is here again too, pecking at our opinions and speculating on the likely roosting status next year in the Beehive. I had thoughts of doing a Winston Peters cartoon depicting him as a lion being clawed to pieces by other political lions. A nearby media vulture says to another, “Looks like ‘Shredded Evidence’ is on the menu this time.”

Instead, the successful pro- smacking referendum drew my attention, because I am surprised that New Zealand is beginning to shift away from the social reforms put into place by parliament over the last nine years. Three hundred and ten thousand Kiwis have asked us to vote on whether or not the amended section 59 of the Crimes Act (intended to reduce parental violence) should be repealed or not.

The Government has decided to delay the referendum until next year and I have mixed feelings about that. Issues like this one are usually treated as a conscience vote and it would have been useful to get candidates opinions on the matter. It certainly would be more interesting debating this than the hoary old chestnuts of law and order and welfare reforms.

I cannot remember smacking my daughters, but I do recall telling them I was getting very close to it at times. I know just how frustrating it feels when you seem to run out of options and try to draw the line on what kids can get away with.

I had a lot to do with teachers in those days and they told me how incredibly stressful it was grappling with added responsibilities and having less disciplinary options than parents did at that time. Many disruptive children had smacking parents and it took extra teaching time to get such children to respond to other disciplining techniques. Some never get the message of course, until they have spent years in jail.

Last year, I did some teacher aiding and I am sad to say that things have not changed much. A huge amount of time is lost settling classes down and dealing with administration. The NCEA is well intentioned and it would work better if every class had teacher aides and computers to spread the load. Our schools appear to me to be under resourced and our secondary schools in particular, could do with more parental interaction.

What I witnessed was a lot of under achieving students gliding along, buffeted by stressed teachers and education negative peer pressure. I found most of the students politely respectful and the easily distracted ones, made some progress when given some one to one attention.

I remember well behaving just the same at their age – especially in maths where the teachers seemed to speak only Latin or Greek. Luckily for me, I had encouragement at home to get teach-yourself books from the city and catch up in my spare time.

Teacher recruitment is more difficult than it used to be and a couple of surveys I read about might offer some explanations. In 1948, the major concerns of secondary teachers were: dealing with bad language, chewing gum and the dress code. Today, when asked the same question, teachers expressed fears of being accused of sexual abuse and being beaten or stabbed.

These results reminded me of a few tongue in cheek verses from a song, no doubt penned by a teacher who had reached the end of his tether.

“Beating boys is ineffective, every one’s a mother’s son.
Take the straps off all the teachers and give each one a loaded gun!”

Spaced Out

Spaced Out

“Mars Lander Finds Water!” The news made me so excited, that one of the mugs I was making collapsed as I listened to reports of the Phoenix Mission’s successful collection and analysis of moist Martian soil. This discovery is really important, because it makes a future manned mission to Mars so much more feasible - wherever we go, we will need water.

In my youth, I was an avid reader of science fiction and often day dreamed about space travel. I really count my blessings when I see many of the stories in those books actually played out in real life today.

The Russians are already taking tourist astronauts to the space station and it seems that tickets costing millions of dollars are no obstacles for some multi-millionaires. Alas, I will have to be content to ration out the few remaining skyrockets that I have stashed away and leave a Martian trip to my imagination.

One advantage of space travel that appeals to me comes from Einstein’s ‘Theory of Relativity’. He claims that a space traveller will return home younger than his earth bound compatriots.

I have now reached the age when so many bits are falling off, or are in need of urgent repair, that any relative age slowing advantages would come really handy. Genetic engineering is another possibility; but knowing my luck, they will discover how to prevent aging when I am a bed bound 90 year old and offer me another 100 years!

These thoughts about aging resurfaced recently while I was playing music to an audience of largely of grey and white haired faces. It made me think “How on earth are we going to cope with all the Baby Boomers when we enter the ‘gah gah’ stage?” That time is not far away and it will be a real headache for any future government.

The cash strapped Russians are promoting adventure tourism and the Japanese are planning retirement space hotels for the elderly. Perhaps we should spend our super in this area rather than terrestrial rest homes. Instead of looking out onto immaculately kept gardens, we could be gazing down at the Earth, hoping the next generation does not spoil the view.

When the time comes to pass on, like deceased Viking warriors, we could then be shipped of into Outer Space, preserved in capsules of liquid nitrogen. Somewhere out in the Universe, a more advanced life form might resurrect us and reconstruct a youthful body from our DNA.

Who knows, they might be expecting us.

Country Strife

Country Strife

Country life is often served up in real estate advertisements as ‘a slice of heaven’. Emerald green pastures are shown under cloudless skies, with contented livestock grazing around houses that would not look out of place in any House and Garden magazine. It certainly is an appealing picture and each year sees a new batch of urban converts fleeing the rat race to seek a new life ‘out in the sticks’. One of them even got his story into the NZ Herald. He sold his BMW dealership and headed out far from the city lights to live the good life – with style.

He soon had a rude awakening however, when he found out that rural life did not quite match his dreams. At first it was the noise. Every morning cocks crowed, dogs barked and cows seemed to moo all the way from paddocks to the milking shed. To make matters worse, his neighbour used foul language when directing dogs around the farm and responded in much the same way when complaints were made about cows leaving a disgusting mess on the road. It accumulated like concrete under cars, especially shiny new beemers. Every car trip had to be carefully planned to allow time to wash the paintwork or drive out later when it had been scattered by other cars and dried out a bit.

The ex-car dealer was a man of action. Such insulting and bad behaviour would never be tolerated in suburbia. He thought it was time to bring more civilised ways into the countryside! He decided to take his neighbour to court and sue him for disturbing the peace and degrading the environment. The case was, unsurprisingly, thrown out of court by a judge who upheld the cocky’s right to carry out customary farm practices and exercise free speech on his own land.

The ruling would no doubt be music to the ears of most farmers who get peeved off by life stylers with urban expectations. Oddly enough, soon after I read the Herald article I came across a person who went even further and wanted all small landholders kept out of rural areas.
I was enjoying a beer at a sixtieth birthday celebration on a local farm, when I was introduced by my host to Ian Atfield, a well known Wellington based architect. His work was very familiar to me in the seventies, when his designs (and his own hand built house) were part of radical shift in architectural style.

District Planning and The Resource Management Act came into our conversation and Ian let fly with his own ideas. As he saw it, towns and cities should be fenced off and shifting to the countryside by life stylers prohibited. He envisaged townsfolk living in high-rise buildings and farmers and the Conservation Department left to get on with their work in rural areas.
I disagreed, arguing that New Zealand had a very small population and a lot of real estate – there was heaps of room for everybody to choose to do their own thing. Each time I fly over Northland (on a fine day) I am struck by how few trees and houses there are and so therefore, I see no need to be so restrictive.

One of the few positive things about petrol price rises will be the incentive to use the land more effectively, instead of commuting. I hope the number of stalls and the range of produce will increase at farmers markets, so I can avoid buying tired looking vegetables and fruit in the city supermarkets.

The way this wet winter has gone so far, I would not be at all surprised to see some enterprising life stylers setting up some rice paddies and running a few water buffalo. As the climate changes, so should we – hopefully without meddling bureaucrats telling us how to do it.