The Welfare of Society

We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people. Metiria Turei, Green Party Co-Leader

Poverty is in the news again as the Green Party puts out their Mending the Safety Net policy and throws a gauntlet down before the other parties. The bottom line is that everyone should have enough for their families to flourish, no ifs, no buts, and no government sanctions to penalise those who are failing. I gave an inward cheer that at last the unspeakable was being spoken: our society is broken and needs fixing in a radical way.


Then I started reading the comments section of the media coverage, and my heart sank again at the mean-spirited, self-righteous, I’m all right Jacks, who seek to perpetuate the punishing of poverty, and the stigmatising of the poor.

I’ve had a pretty privileged life, but there was a time when I had three children under five, and was pregnant with my fourth. My husband had just been sectioned under the Mental Health Act to a psychiatric hospital after nearly a year of erratic behaviour and even more erratic financial management. In those days, the bank account was in his name, it was the early 1980s and I was dependent on him financially, not having embarked on a career before the family began. In that year, I was really grateful to receive what was then a universal child allowance of $6 per child, it was the only independent money I had, and was usually enough to buy the children essentials like a pair of shoes.

It was a week before Christmas, I had nothing, literally, other than some food in the pantry, but certainly not enough to last, and nothing to cover the needs of babes and toddlers still in nappies. The Public Trust, which stepped in to manage the finances of mental patients while they were under the MHA, was closed for the year and would not be able to take any action to release funds to me until mid January.

Sunnyside Hospital 1977
The feeling of utter helplessness was overwhelming, but at the same time I had some pride and was reluctant to ask my parents for help (loving though I knew they were, and would do anything for me). I was still in shock from the brutal sectioning of my man, which had involved the police forcibly subduing him, followed by his hospitalisation in the then Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital. I cried myself to sleep every night, and for many of my waking hours trembled with tension and heartbreak. Not knowing what was going to happen, or how I was going to cope, haunted my every thought.

I was lucky, I was surrounded by a caring rural community and had people calling by with meals and offers to baby-sit. My parents also rallied as soon as they realised my dire situation, and came to stay over Christmas and New Year, bearing gifts.

Without that support, I can’t even begin to think what I would have done to survive and care for my littlies. And yet, this is what so many women have to go through for periods much longer than I. They have to struggle for years to make the meagre government handouts stretch. They have to live with the abuse and name-calling that the uncaring in society inflict on them: “dole bludgers, parasites”. So often in commentaries you read the view that the poor shouldn’t have children, or go on having children if they can’t support them. There is no empathy, no sympathy, only judgment and belittling.

But I know that circumstances can change in a life, the unforeseen does sometimes happen, and a comfortable life can be overturned. No one is exempt, and only the truly hard-hearted, or foolish, can say that “it can’t happen to me”.


To those who say it is irresponsible to have children if your circumstances can’t afford it, we chose to have no more children when my husband was better and back home with us. I had a tubal ligation. It failed, I was one of 3%, or whatever the failure percentage is, and within a few months of my operation I was pregnant again.

You see, sometimes life just throws us a curved ball and you have no say on where it will land. Most of the time we can’t change our situation, no matter how much we try. A truly caring and progressive society sees value in everyone and is prepared to pay the price of picking up those who stumble and need a helping hand.


To those small-minded naysayers who make accusations of socialism as if it were something to be ashamed of, I say I’m proud to support the Green Party that has such a conscience and is prepared to draw a line in the sand against the policies of privilege and selfish individualism.

I always loved the song by the Hollies: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.  We are all on this road of life together, and it is easier for us all, if we extend a helping hand, ungrudging, to those less fortunate, for we never know when it might be our turn for a hand up.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

A Gentle Revolution – Pt 2

We are not doing celebrity, personality, abusive politics – we are doing ideas. This is about hope. Jeremy Corbyn

The funny thing about hope is that it doesn’t take much of it to make a difference to your day, to a generation, to a nation. Hope is what happened yesterday in the British elections.

I was at work on the other side of the world, it was my day time as the UK results started trickling in at 10am/pm depending on one’s antipodean situation. I’m an ex-pat Brit living in New Zealand and I have taken very little interest in British elections because they still embrace first past the post instead of proportional representation, and consequently have an inherently unfair system that inevitably results in maintaining the status quo for the privileged. To add insult to injury, I had been disgusted with the result of the Brexit vote, so had pretty much written off the island kingdom.

This time felt different however, as the British Labour Party has been going through a process, either rebirth or death throes. The media and political punditry (both right and left of the spectrum) have for months claimed it to be the latter.

Throughout the day I sneakily watched online updates on the Guardian website with trepidation, fearing that my homeland would once again be swayed by the stale message of ‘strong and stable leadership’. But from the moment the exit polls indicated something else might be afoot, I was transfixed and a small flame flared up in my heart.

6720It had already been obvious that the Labour Party leader had tapped into a yearning in members of the voting public, not the wealthy ones of course, but the ordinary Joes, a bit like the folk left behind in the US who upturned that nation’s political world back in November. You’d have thought the chattering elite would have learned a lesson by now. But no, the message of austerity and gloom continued to be spread as one of no alternative.

Trouble is people cannot live with doom and gloom. A wise man in biblical times wrote: ‘where there is not vision, the people perish’,  and a truer word could not apply more to modern times. Of course the message that Jeremy Corbyn has to offer was very different from Donald Trump’s, based as it is on a lifetime of service to others (as opposed to self-serving), and a philosophy that puts the welfare of all above the benefit of a small elite (compared with the wheeler-dealing trader of tinsel).

Young and old, poor and some middle-classed responded and made it patently clear to all the pundits who had rubbished, scorned, denigrated, and insulted Corbyn for many months, that they liked to have a bit of hope.


Even if the reins of power were not quite achieved yesterday, something has changed,
and it felt like a victory.

The calvinistic work ethic, that some have to do it hard, that’s just their lot in life, accept it and knuckle down, has been rejected. Instead, we can work together to make a fairer society, doesn’t seem such a wishy washy dreamer’s plaint.

The multitudes that got out, attended rallies, door knocked, spoke to unbelieving family and friends, have shown that there are indeed many of us who share a common goal. We are legion, and there are many more, who maybe did not have the courage to act on what they hoped for, but now have seen what can be achieved with a concerted effort.

Some might say a gentle revolution has taken place. Some of those monied, and powerful elites might be shaken by what they have seen. Despite the overwhelming odds of a negative and biased media, a popular movement has begun, bypassing the traditional or expected behaviours. My hope is that it will spread, because we all need hope, as we all need food, water and air. It is the essence of life as a human being.

Hope springs eternal is a tired and at times meaningless proverb, nonetheless it is true. Hope is what religion is based on, and every society has been built around it. People can endure horrendous suffering if they believe it will come to an end and a better future awaits. Hope is built into our psyche, even the most despicable depots and torturers rely on it to break their prisoners.

By the same token, it will be important to build on that hope, to feed it, to make sure it comes to pass, because ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life’; without it, there is death, both literal and metaphorical.

My hope is that my country, which is facing an election in September will learn from the UK, that our media will start to balance its coverage of the various parties and critically examine the policies without bias. I hope that the left of centre parties who have, for some time, thought their only path was to move rightwards to attract the voters, will now understand that is not the way to woo. There has to be something very different on offer, not more of the same wrapped up with a different coloured bow.

A warning has been sounded to all complacent governments, your days are numbered if you do not fulfill your obligation and duty to care for your people. If you continue to tread down the down-trodden, they will rise up when a suitable leader speaks the words they long to hear, and offers a different path. We all basically want the same things, home, warmth, food, safety, love, fulfilment, purpose. It’s just that some people have those, without seeming to understand that everyone needs them, and are unwilling to share.

John Lennon sang in 1971:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

A Gentle Revolution – Pt 1

We can create a new kind of politics: kinder, more respectful, but courageous, too. Jeremy Corbyn

On the verge of change, hope is resurrected, the world of possibilities opens. It’s only an election on the other side of the world, but it is the land of my birth and I care what happens. For a long time my political heart has been filled with the philosophies of the left, not socialism as such, but a more humanitarian, egalitarian mindset. In the context of the history of the land I live in as well as my homeland, agendas that are totally at odds with my beliefs have dominated the greater part of my adult years. But there is a stirring in the air. Can you hear it? A vibration building. Can you feel it?

England has the opportunity for  gentle revolution, or it can choose the status quo, thinking of the devil you know rather than a change for good. For too long the western nations have thrown up a succession of grey men and occasional women, preaching a message of steady as she goes, don’t rock the boat, tighten the belt and pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

obama_victoryEvery now and then a small beacon of hope flares up (Obama was one), which inspires the people to believe they can make a difference, society can be better.

Too often that beacon is stifled, snuffed out, as following the election of the Greek Coalition of the  Radical Left (SYRIZA), the powers against change showed how quickly and efficiently  can act.

Bernie Sanders is another who burned for a time, drawing young and old together in a dream for a better future for all, but instead the nation’s convoluted (and arguably corrupt) electoral system intervened, and instead a monstrous demigod has risen to power.

ce2dfd23a1b76a7ba4f6dbee38ac2158In France, a battle between bigotry and cultured, rational, measured humanitarianism was uninspiring until the duly elected Macron trumped the American president in a hand-shake and the world cheered.

Now Jeremy Corbyn is drawing the multitudes to him, touched by his humanity, his genuine love of his fellow man. He has been persecuted, scorned, demonised, harangued, but still he is calm and steadfast to the truths that he has lived throughout his life.

an121825919a-crowd-gathers-That is why people respond, even if they disagree with his policies, he speaks to them directly, he does not need speech notes or tele prompts, because he knows and understands the yearnings of ordinary folk. A messianic figure maybe, or a pied piper. But he gives people hope that the future can be different, that is does not have to be misery, poverty, hardship. The society he preaches invests in its people, not buildings, in education for all, not military might, in free, quality healthcare, not privilege for the wealthy. Who would not want this?

The pity is that too often the downtrodden do not dare to believe that their situation can change, and from fear they choose to stay in their confines instead of walking through the open door. Change can be scary, we get comfortable in our old slippers and sloppy jersies. It is easier to watch telly than read a book, or go out and offer a helping hand to a needy neighbour. Shunning the stranger in our midst is preferable to inviting them into our home and making an effort to understand another’s culture. Difference is easier to reject than to integrate.

To make a better world there has to be active participation, it will will never trickle down from the wealthy to the poor. Like tree that grows strong there has to be a good root system or else the first strong wind of adversity will rip it out. The roots are the everyday people, you and me, mum and dad, brother and sister, black and white and yellow and brown. The blood is red for us all. There is so much more that we have in common than keeps us apart; every family tree goes back to a small gene pool.

It is good that a man of peace is speaking words of conciliation, and showing by example that decency and tolerance offer a better path than division and bellicosity. To be sure, the paths of war have lead us to the point of destruction so many times, but we never learn. The paths of acquisitiveness and objectification are leading us to planetary annihilation.

To continue to wilfully ignore the blindingly obvious at election time is a betrayal of our children’s future. We allow the machinations of those with ulterior motives determine the agenda, to manipulate the media, to turn those with altruism in their hearts into laughing stocks.

But when utopia is no longer an option because dystopia rules, remember there used to be a choice. Did you make it?

Thrash metal band, Megadeth released their album last year:

If you only want to live and die in a cage
There’s panic and there’s chaos, rampant in the streets
Where useless thoughts of peace are met with rage

Demoralized and overmastered people think
The quickest way to end a war is lose
Dictatorship ends starting with tyrannicide
You must destroy the cancer at it’s root

TPP is the new Imperialism

If cooperation is a duty, I hold that non-cooperation also under certain conditions is equally a duty.’ Mahatma Gandhi

I’m a colonial gal, more correctly I’m a wild colonial gal, in fact I’m downright angry. It takes a lot to madden me these days, but the whole episode around the signing of the TPPA has hit the button. 

Not only is the secrecy around the negotiations deplorable, but for the negotiating parties to turn on those who question both the process and the outcome, and claim they don’t understand, or are misrepresenting, is doubly despicable.

But what has really taken the biscuit has been the paucity of our mainstream media and their mockery, scorn, and downright racism towards many of the protesters to Thursday’s signing.

I want to make it plain that I am the daughter of a colonial “master”. My father served as a reasonably highly placed officer in the Nigerian Colonial Police Force during the 1950s until Independence in 1963.  My parents met and married there. Nigeria wedding

MimiNigerianChildrenI was raised with black servants.

Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colony in one territory by a political power from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous population.

Colonialism caused the loss of sovereignty, which is the loss of the right of a state to control its own destiny, to play in its own development, to conduct its own diplomacy and internal relations, to decide which outside nations to associate with or to emulate, and above all to manage or even mismanage its own affairs, derive pride and pleasure from its success and derive lessons, frustration and experience from its failures. Biafran-Children-13

Africa not only provided Europeans with a source of raw materials, but it also provided them with what they viewed as raw, uncivilized people, on whom they could impose their views and whom they could exploit at the same time they exploited the land.

I have vivid memories of my father raging against black people and his support for Enoch Powell later when we were back in the motherland.

The colonial rule of the territories around the river Niger, defined by arbitrarily imposed borders, was maintained and controlled by playing the different races and tribes against one another. When the English left, all hell broke out and the atrocities of the Biafran War in 1967 shocked the world.

Fast forward a few decades, and I have now been a citizen of New Zealand for over 40 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love this country, it is my home. I’m married to a fifth generation Kiwi, and have 3 Kiwi kids. I have read Michael King’s History of New Zealand, I have attended Treaty of Waitangi workshops and I believe that in Te Tiriti, we have something that is unique in the British Empire.

But despite that, I see all too clearly that the same attitudes that dominated colonial life in Africa, are still at work in New Zealand, albeit in a muted and covert way. It is never more apparent than when the indigenous people, Maori, get a bit “uppity” and claim their rights under the historic treaty signed 175 years ago.20192-PUBL-0151-1-014.tif

At the heart of the Treaty of Waitangi is the issue of sovereignty as the British understood it, and governance as the Maori understood it. This has been an ongoing source of discussion and debate. But one thing has been constant throughout the history of this nation, and that is the repeated breach of faith by the governments of the day towards the Maori.

The signing of the TPPA is just the latest manifestation. Maori have experienced for generations the treachery of governmental assurances. This time however, it is not just the Maori people, Tangata Whenua, whose trust has been betrayed, but also those of us who have been later arrivals in this land, the Tau Iwi.

At the heart of TPP is the concept of Imperialism, which refers to economic, military, political domination that is achieved without settlement. Imperialism is aimed exclusively at maximizing self-interest rather than promoting good government and economic development in the colonies. Imperialism is not only the desire to open up more markets for finished goods and get raw materials, but is also to invest surplus capital and monopolize natural resources. 3.1-NOT-SO-EVIL-EMPIRES_9-1200x791

There is a hangover from Colonialism that we can still see in the new Imperialism. Colonialism saddled the most colonies with monocrop economies. During the colonial period, each colony was made to produce a single cash crop or two and no attempts were made to diversify the agricultural economy. Africans were encouraged to produce what they didn’t consume and to consume what they didn’t produce.

In New Zealand, what we produce as a trading nation is no longer just what we as a people need. Market driven forces determine what we produce. More and more of our family run farms are being converted to corporate owned and managed dairy economic units. So we export dairy and we import items that we used to produce ourselves, but others can produce more cheaply because of poor working conditions and wages for their workers.

Specialisation not diversification, all for the sake of trade, so our new masters can make profits.

To achieve this end the ISDS, Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism is the Trojan horse, if you like, the logical conclusion of which is to “take the legal system and turn it into a stock market”. tumblr_lfymxdtkcv1qzwd5oo1_500-copy

Under TPPA (and its northern hemisphere counterpart TTIP), we cannot interfere with that profit process without the risk of being taken, as a nation, to arbitration before an unelected, unaccountable tribunal of corporate appointees. If we were to democratically legislate to protect our environment against the adverse effects of intensive dairying, for example, we risk being taken to arbitration by a foreign owned corporate for future loss of profit. The arbitration decision is over and beyond our legal and parliamentary system and may impose crippling financial penalties, especially on smaller nations, all in the name of corporate loss of profit.

There is no appeal.

That is injustice. world-corporate-imperialist-getting-richer-every-day

Marx predicted that the bourgeoisie would continue to create a global market and undermine both local and national barriers to its own expansion.  A November 2014 report showed that 0.004% of the world’s adult population controls nearly $30 trillion in assets, 13pc of the world’s total wealth,

Such loss of sovereignty to a new treaty, which we are assured is for our good, does not bode well with the hindsight of colonial history.

Which brings me to the protest movement.

Thursday 4 February saw a rising up, and a coming together of Maori and Pakeha, young and old to say “No” to the steamroller that is TPP. It was a festive, passionate, peaceful march, well coordinated, well publicised and absolutely splendid.

The Maori warriors who led the march were fierce and showed how awesome their culture is. The father of protest movements, Gandhi said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” We saw the hearts and souls of our nation that day.

Courtesy Taiao Photography
I was disappointed to see the reaction of many of the media commentators, and government politicians. They are happy for Maori to win Rugby World Cups for them, proud of the haka performed at the beginning of games – a bit of spectacle on the side. But when performed with power, with anger, with passion and with real challenge, the comments were disparaging. The colonialists were quick to put the natives down, “rent-a-mob”. The ordinary folk in the march, not all of whom were good at articulating why they were there, were quickly mocked, put in their place, basically told “how dare you disobey!

Civil disobedience has a noble history in colonial history. The art of Satyagraha, passive resistance or non-cooperation, was formulated by Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian struggle for independence from British rule.

In his fight for justice, Gandhi accepted two ‘tools’ or methods which were based on complete non-violence: non-cooperation was passive, civil disobedience was active and almost revolutionary. gandhi-saltmarch01

The non-cooperation movement aimed at bringing the government to a stand still, by undertaking acts which the British government considered illegal, but were protests against exploitative and suppressive measures.

In 1930 the Dandi 24 day march (Salt Satyagraha) took place in protest against the repressive British Salt monopoly. Gandhi was arrested along with 80,000 of his followers. It stirred the whole nation.

It was the beginning of the end of colonial rule in India, and the crumbling of the British Empire.

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in
their mission can alter the course of history.” Mahatma Gandhi

Flags, emblems, and revolutions

White collar conservative flashin down the street, pointing that plastic finger at me, they all assume my kind will drop and die, but I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.

Jimi Hendrix (If 6 was 9 )

I’ve never been a flag waver, or at least not in the literal sense, as someone who is conspicuously patriotic. Put down to being a bit of a gypsy, born in one land, raised in another, then moving to a third. So while I consider my current land to be my home, the land of my birth still tugs at my heart, and where I spent my early childhood holds a mysterious allure.

New Zealand – where I reside

England – where I was born


Nigeria – where I was raised


which used to have this flag   200px-Flag_of_British_Colonial_Nigeria.svg

One country so different from the other two, and yet even the two that are similar and familiar are different, and half a life time away makes the differences even keener. So, no extreme nationalist am I.

But give me a cause that heats my blood, and I will stand on the battlements and wave a flag of righteous indignation with vigour.

I was less than enthusiastic about the proposal by our prime minister to replace our national flag. In my mind there needed to be a valid reason to do so, such as cutting the apron strings of mother England and becoming an independent nation, no longer under another nation’s queen.

But no, we have a prime minister who is still in the thrall of royalty, who reveres lords and ladies, and who on a whim has decided that we need a national brand, which will be depicted on our flag for marketing purposes, not for nationhood.

Enough has been written about the process and the disappointing outcome of the final 4 options we were to vote on. I was contemplating registering my protest by choosing the worst option or spoiling my ballot paper. 12049616_1037176282981730_248669186624422444_n

Then a quiet revolution started,  and a cause that stirred my apathetic bones was born. The narrative around the “First to the Light” (now popularly nicknamed Red Peak“) design has both charmed my sensitivities and strengthened my determination to make a stand against banality and wrong-mindedness.

I say wrong-minded because much of the debate has centred around the idea of the silver fern representing our national identity.

images-1 It is the brand of our great sportsmen and women (Rugby and Netball).

It is used by our military forces in various ways. And as such it is an emblem.

Historically emblems were often used on coats of arms, painted on shields and representing an abstract symbol of the person to whom it belonged or was affiliated. slide_432176_5625324_free

An emblem is a pattern that is used to represent an idea or an individual and is usually worn as an identifying mark or patch (consider biker gangs)

It is interesting that the panel that chose our flag options decided that as a nation, New Zealanders find abstract concepts difficult and that was why the final 4 were stylised depictions of a fern.

The question is, what does a fern represent? What are the qualities of a fern that reflects our national identity?

Fern species, numbering several thousand, are found throughout the world, and are especially abundant in tropical rain forests. They are considered largely as being specialists in marginal habitats, often succeeding in places where other plants don’t.

So, not unique, but common, and survivors – I guess that is quite a good quality for an individual, but is it inspiring for a nation?

The history of heraldry is complex and the evolution of emblems and coats of arms to pennants and flags is a study beyond my blog capability. For my purposes, it is enough to know that, in a discussion about nationhood, we need more than just stylised emblems to represent our multi-cultural diversity. That is why even an elementary knowledge of the symbolism of heraldic colour is helpful.

redGules: Old French word for “throats” (English gullet).  Symbolic of nobility, boldness and ferocity and has strong military connotations.

blue      Azure: From Old French, signifies piety, sincerity, loyalty and chastity.

green     Vert: From the Latin ‘viridis’, symbolic of joy, youth, beauty, and loyalty in love.

black     Sable: Signifies knowledge, piety, constancy, serenity and work.

silvershield    Argent (silver): Represented by white, signifies peace, sincerity, innocence and purity.

purple    Purpure: Signifies justice, temperance and sovereignity.

goldshield Or (gold): Signifies glory, generosity, constancy and elevation of the mind.

First to the Light (Red Peak) is made up of: 11951393_1026136120752413_3264179686129089035_n
A Red ground symbolising boldness
A Black ground symbolising constancy
A Blue ground symbolising sincerity and loyalty
A Silver chevron symbolising peace

Those are the qualities of a nation I would be proud to call mine.

emblemsA country may have both a national flag and a national coat of arms, and the two may not look alike at all. Many nations have a seal or emblem in addition to a national flag and a national coat of arms. There is no reason why we cannot have the fern as our seal, coat of arms or emblem and have a different flag with colours symbolising the nobler qualities of our country as peace-makers, conquerors of mountains, and down to earth good sense.

The problem with having a national debate on changing the flag is that the tendency is toward simplistic side taking, whereas there is so much more to be considered. Flags are more than just pieces of coloured cloth used to create division amongst people, or to be waved at sporting events or commemorations

Flags were useful in wars, so you knew which side to kill. Sometimes flags are used as a form of protest against or in favour of a political idea. There are great revolutionary flags.

I have a family history of revolution.AxCoatBig My ancestors were Roundheads, three of whom were regicides involved in the execution of Charles I of England. My 9th great grandfather Daniel Axtell, who was hung, drawn and quartered for his actions, had a coat of arms which depicted 3 axes on an azure ground with the motto “Sub cruce gloriore” – “I glory in the cross”.

Standard_of_Oliver_Cromwell_(1653–1659).svgOliver Cromwell my 10th great uncle seemed to hedge his bets with his standard incorporating several symbolic concepts.

A flag can rally or it can divide, it can inspire or terrorise. When we vote on our nation’s flag, let us do so thoughtfully, carefully considering what we want it to say about us a people. Resist the temptation to settle for a gimmick, a marketing logo or a ‘patch’. Let the choice be for enduring qualities that speak of noble aspirations.

Here are some thoughts to bear in mind:

“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people” Howard Zinn

“We have two … flags always: one for the rich and one for the poor. When the rich fly it means that things are under control; when the poor fly it means danger, revolution, anarchy.” Henry Miller

“The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” Paul Cezanne

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” John F. Kennedy

I will let Jimi Hendrix have the last word, his interpretation his nation’s flag.“>

In a heart beat


It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.   Marcus Aurelius

I lie on the floor at the end of my yoga session. Savasana, corpse like, flat on my back, eyes closed, listening to the soft soothing music and the gentle hypnotic voice encouraging me to relax toes, calves, thighs, belly. I mentally move through my body letting the tension subside. “Gently turn onto your right side and when you are ready slowly come into a seated position.” I reluctantly let myself return and brace myself to leave the lovely after yoga feeling to return to the rest of my day.  As I stand up, I glance at the letter open on the coffee table; it’s from my cardiologist. I smile at the irony of leaving my corpse on the yoga map only to be confronted by my very real mortality in the words of a letter.

“Come on dogs, let’s go”, I put the leashes on my two canine companions, grab my  Led light and stride out into the pre-dawn. The air is crisp and frosty, the black velvet night sky with its stellar jewels is,  this morning, eclipsed by the field of diamonds at my feet where the frosted grass winks and sparkles in my head light. I gasp at the immense beauty of it and shudder at the familiar thought that I may never see it again.

I have always been afraid of dying. My earliest memories are of that dread of no longer being. Where had it come from, I wonder, was there something dark in my childhood that had planted this fear, or was it just common to all mankind. My rational self plumps for the latter.

When I was younger, up until my early twenties, I had suffered from a recurring death dream, usually when I was becoming ill and running a temperature. The vividness of the residual feeling of distress it left me with remains, but the details have faded into the past. These lasted until my mid twenties when a spiritual awakening dispatched the fantom back to the darkness.

Since those earnest days, I have not exactly abandoned my faith, but the things I believed back then, are not what I believe now; life and all that it has thrown at me have changed my mind about many of the tenets of orthodoxy. Strangely though, I have not been bothered by my nightmare since. It seems, however, that despite my spiritual beliefs, I am firmly attached to this life, the sensory world I occupy; not longing for the essential life hereafter. This has come to the fore once again as I am having to confront my finiteness in a way that sixty years of living now makes very pertinent.

As I turn from the road onto the beach and watch my younger dog dash into the sea, my thoughts turn to my son, whose collapse while training for a marathon a couple of months ago, was the trigger for a series of events that led to the letter from my heart specialist. My man-child, fit, healthy, living the dream of every young man, in snowboard heaven in the French alps had collapsed while running with a friend in England’s midlands. Out of the blue, no hint of trouble previously, he nearly died as his heart went into atrial fibrillation and he lost consciousness twice. I think of how often I run on my own in fairly remote places, and ponder how things might have turned out very differently if my son had not been with a running companion. I catch my breath and pant as the alternative once again hits me and my heart skips as tears well.

For two weeks the family had gathered round our computers, in New Zealand, the Middle East and the UK, we are a scattered clan, but rallied together to share digital hugs and ignore the hours of home to talk in international time zones. His doctors wanted the whole family tested, ECGs, echo scans, the whole shebang as they tried to identify the problem, tachycardia or cardiomyopathy. They wanted to know about family members who had died untimely deaths, the baby sibling, the uncle, the grandfathers. I had been pretty sure it wasn’t my side of the family, I’m an avid family tree researcher and most the of the untimely deaths were on my husband’s side,  so I was confident that I wasn’t to blame. But the doctors kept asking about my youngest who had died at 6 months of bronchiolitis. At the time, I had been too distressed to question what I was told and had accepted the fact that although usually a relatively harmless virus, occasionally and in some people, it turned virulent. But now, I wondered.lyttelton_harbour_by_night__by_carn_nz

I turn off the Led light on my forehead and blink as my eyes accustom to the starlight and the softly glowing sea reflecting the illuminations of Lyttelton across the harbour. The night sky always awes me; sometimes I find looking into infinity disturbing, the enormity of the universe overwhelms my comprehension.

But I take comfort in iSaucepan09-01-14named_zpsccdfd190dentifying Orion, my companion constellation, the one I track across the sky on my sleepless nights, clouds permitting. I see it now, the archer drawing his bow, just above the dark shadowed hills.

I had gone to my local GP and told him the saga, so an ECG was done on the spot and I heard the odd sounds, the galloping hoofbeats, the pauses. The nurse too quickly said that she wasn’t qualified to comment, effectively cutting out my unvoiced question.ECG

Yes, there was some erratic heart beat, and I readily confessed that I had been aware of it for years, but had always assumed it was the stress that I had lived under for the last thirty years, my marriage not always the easiest, and I have been through anguish many times.

I look back over the last few weeks and am surprised how calm I had been when the echo scan showed that I had the same condition as my son and like him, I could be struck down at any time. Doctors expressed surprise that I had had no symptoms  and that I  was so fit for my age. Familial cardiomyopathy was the final diagnosis; the familial bit, I was told, is quite unusual, although a dilated left ventricle is quite common in athletes

The shell shingle crunches beneath my feet as I stride across the strand. If I can’t run, I can at least walk at a brisk pace. The cardiologist hadn’t actually forbidden running, just he would rather I didn’t until he could ascertain whether the possible clotting in my heart has dispersed, maybe in three months when the meds have had time to take effect; I will  know hopefully at the next scan. When I had complained that running was my stress relief, he conceded that I could continue what I had been doing as it was better for the heart to not be stressed than to be exerted.

I’ve been fit and athletic most of my life, so it goes against the grain to feel so vulnerable. A fistful of daily pills (Warfarin thinning the blood, ACE inhibitors expanding the blood vessels, Beta blockers lowering the blood pressure) to match the plethora of emotions: from numbness to dread to simple pleasure at the beauty all around.

I look around to check the dogs are following; Fluff and Scruff, those aren’t their names, just the seeds of an idea for a children’s story I have wanted to write for my grandchild, but not got around to. I have lots of those seeds, lying in the drawers of my mind, waiting for the right conditions to be planted, watered and tended, but I always have an excuse: no time, too stressed, too tired, too many other things to do. The words of a poem learned so many years ago at school, flash across my memory, “What is this life, so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  The  confrontation with mortality is a spur to  to finish projects that have been on hold; to treasure each beautiful morning walk on the beach; to create a legacy to leave to my children.

Since knowing about my “condition” I have felt fragile and vulnerable, easily moved to tears, in fact, starting to feel my age. I’m in a battle with myself.  My  heart has been playing all sorts of tunes in my chest, thumping and skipping, growling at times. Rhythms I have lived with all my life and just put down to stress, now sound stereophonically in my ears. More than ever before, the awareness now that my life depends on that beat.

I reach the stream and linger so that the dogs can slake their thirsts in the fresh tumbling waters. They lap long and deeply, how sweet it must taste to them. Somewhere downstream where the tide meets the fresh water, I can hear the honking, and squawking of Paradise ducks. Upstream a cock boldly crows declaring, “Day is coming” and further up the valley, an echoing less confident cock crows, “Is it really coming?”.

The rather uncomfortable knowledge that death could come at any time is also strangely reassuring. At least, with heart failure, the end is likely to be blessedly quick and out of the blue. I hate the idea of becoming decrepit and slowly descending into a long drawn out illness.

Cutting across my melancholy, snatches of a song stir in my memory:
Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel…
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel…

I turn again towards the sea to the black horizon and see the sun beginning its display. No lyrical rosy fingered dawn today, but a blood red, fiery orange passion. My heart lifts and I join the ghostly voice of Nina Simone in the final chorus:
“Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.
Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh…
And I’m feelin’ good”


A pain in the neck


Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world. Arthur Schopenhauer

New glasses, I lost my old ones somewhere in the garden, or at least that’s where I narrowed down the potential field to.

The garden, why on earth the garden? I’m one of those folk who pushes her specs on to the top of her head when not needing them, because that’s a convenient place to keep them, easily accessible, I know where they are and I don’t need to worry about carrying a case with me.

It turns out that, according to my insurer, the garden is quite a common place to lose glasses and not an easy place to find them. Glasses, bright and shiny, are popular with magpies and even an occasional cat is not averse to stealing them.

It had been a couple of years since my last eye test, so I was due for a check anyway. Two weeks later and my new specs were ready, I went for a final fitting and collected them. I knew it takes a while for eyes to adjust to new vision, so I expected a bit of discomfort, but the last two weeks have literally been a pain in the neck. I’ve had headaches, puffy eyes and pain down the right side of my neck down into my shoulder. The sore eyes, I can understand as wearing occupational/ progressive lenses feels rather as if I’m peering through a pair of binoculars, which for eight hours staring at a computer screen is is likely to lead to ocular discomfort.

I’ve come to realise that I move my eyes constantly, scanning words, paragraphs, pages and screens. Unlike my partner who reads every word and is consequently a painfully slow reader, I’m a speedster, and herein lies the problem.

To effectively use graduated lenses, you have to move your head more than is natural, and for me tipping it at times to unnatural angles to see text in focus. Although in latter days, I’ve resorted to tolerating out of focus in order to to relieve the neck strain. To add to my annoyance, the new glasses have a limited range so that for reading tasks beyond the computer screen, looking at a calendar on the wall behind, for example, the vision is again out of focus. The result of being mostly out of focus is mild nausea.

I gave them two weeks and then cracked. I was surprised at how tearful I was when I went back to the optometrist, realising how important sight is and how limiting poor vision is I suppose, while feeling pathetic at the same time. Half an hour later I have a solution: two new pairs of single lens glasses, one for computer work and one for closer reading.

I know it’s going to be a juggling act most of the time, swapping between pairs for different tasks, but to prove to myself I’ve made the right decision, I’ve spent today on the computer wearing a pair of single lens specs I wore three years ago. They’re no good for close reading, but at the end of the day, my eyes don’t feel swollen, and I don’t have a sore neck and it’s been so good to see the whole picture instead of the narrow focus.

The vision professionals’ claims are that around there is around 90% uptake of progressive/occupational lenses , so I’m in a small minority of folk who can’t tolerate them. So be it. My life revolves around reading in some form or another, so I need the right tools for the job.

I can’t help feeling there is a moral to this tale. So much of modern life is centred on specialisation, narrow focus; problem solving by zooming in on incidentals and minutiae instead of seeing the big picture and the wider implications; concentrating on a current issue, without understanding the historical context.

 If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence. George Eliot

If a tree falls in a forest, or a woman is harassed, will anybody hear?


IMG_0750-0 Philosopher George Berkeley, in his work A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge proposed the idea in 1710, followed by William Fossett twenty years later in a consideration of the emergence of meaning: “To say something is meaningful is to say that that is how we arrange it so; how we comprehend it to be, and what is comprehended by you or I may not be by a cat, for example. If a tree falls in a park and there is no-one to hand, it is silent and invisible and nameless. And if we were to vanish, there would be no tree at all; any meaning would vanish along with us.”

 In 1987 a Canadian singer song writer and environmentalist, Bruce Coburn, released a song called “If a tree falls in the forest”.

Here is the released version:
Here is the acoustic version with lyrics, they are well worth contemplating: 

 In 2011 Marshall Curry made a documentary investigating the darker side of the fight  for our environment, chronicling the actions of the Earth Liberation Front, which led to prison charges for Eco-terrorist Daniel McGowan. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.

The full phrase is ‘If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ According to Urban Dictionary, it symbolizes the ineffectiveness of unheard opinions/thoughts.

IMG_0751 started this post contemplating recent reports that in New Zealand deforestation is occurring faster than reforestation, and our national rail company that is contemplating divesting itself of its electric units to be replaced with cheap Chinese diesel powered engines.

But there is more to be concerned about than literal trees being destroyed, and the stupidity of continuing to support fossil fuel based transportation options, vitally important though that is.

I’m also concerned about the metaphorical trees falling, and the unheard voices crying out in the wilderness.

With the declaration of Hilary Clinton to run for president, we have seen and heard the commentators raising the issue of whether  feminism is still necessary, and that playing the gender card is so last century.

Yet the last 24 hours have shown why we need to keep feminism active with the revealed behaviour of our prime minister repeatedly and unwelcomely handling the hair of a young waitress over several months. A belated and modified apology, not accepted but lied about by perpetrator and reported by tame media has resulted in a global story, international opprobrium and national humiliation.

sb10062916kk-001It is not ok to treat women as a toy, no matter how “playful” or just “horsing” around the intention.  

A cursory look on the Internet for images of hair pulling shows that it is anything but playful.                   

IMG_0755-0When it is by a relative or close familiar, maybe by mutual consent; but by the most powerful person on the country, NO, not under any circumstances.

When an action is not right it needs to brought out into the light and the suffering of the victim not hidden away in a forest of spin.

Whether it is environmental destruction or sexual harassment, at its core is rape and pillage.

Don’t let another tree fall, with no one hearing. Get involved, speak out, lest your opinion becomes ineffective.

Molehills and mountains

The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill. (Erasmus)


I’ve been surprised at the public reaction and vitriol that has been unleashed towards the perpetrators of what, in the scale of actions deserving mass public opprobrium, is a relatively minor misdemeanour.

Two teenage boys in transit to the finale of a season of gruelling training and rowing competitions, facing what potentially could be the pinnacle of their schoolboy sporting prowess.

Two boys surrounded by their team mates, young men seething with testosterone, nerves, excitement, the teacher supervisor away securing transport.  A luggage carousel snaking its way round the concourse while weary travellers await their bags. Joshing, goading, challenging, who dares?

They know they shouldn’t, the signs make that clear; but what’s the point of a dare if it doesn’t involve forbidden deeds and rule breaking. Did they think about the consequences? Probably not, spur of the moment actions rarely follow considered thought. Did they have malicious intent? Of course not, it was an act of bravado, like streaking at a rugby match, good for a laugh and a touch of exhibitionism.

So they rode the carousel, breaching airport security and incurred a severe reprimand from the aviation authorities and police. End of the matter.

Hell no!

There are principles and principals, and their principal decided that his principles had been challenged and therefore his authority undermined and that would never do. The miscreants must forfeit their places in the rowing squad.

At this point, there is a disconnect between the principal’s understanding and the purpose of participating in a team sport that more than others depends on every single member of the squad. To remove two key players from the top eight not only decimates the crew, but totally undermines the morale of the whole squad.

The coaches said they would not stand the boys down. The principal figuratively stamped his foot and engaged a lawyer. Gauntlets were thrown.

Now, It is well known that parents of rowers are immensely proud of their offspring and participate with commitment and enthusiasm throughout the season and especially for the final – the Maadi Cup, the largest school sports event in the Southern Hemisphere with 125 schools and over 2000 rowers. Do you have an idea of the scale of organisation that is needed, and mostly performed and manned by parents? 

So when the parent of these two boys learned of the principal’s intent to deny their sons the opportunity to compete without fair hearing of the accounts of all sides, they did everything they could as good parents to move the immovable object from their path. Since there was no no reasoning that could be made, they contacted a judge and sought an injunction, which was granted in the interim; their sons were able to compete.

And this is where the molehill becomes a mountain.

Somehow the story made the mainstream media sit up. The details were reported, commentators started commenting, op-ed writers formed their opinions and universally the parents were excoriated. There followed a week of what can only be called pack attack.

Headmasters across the country rallied behind their colleague and together with legal eagles stated direly that a dangerous precedent had been set. Authority must be preserved or else the whole fabric of society will break down

School rules.

But authority without respect is worthless. Respect is earned by fairness. So a principal can demand that his principles be observed, but sometimes the law is an ass and as such deserves to be challenged.

Job hunting


It’s been a year now that I have been seeking the ideal work situation and my enthusiasm for the process is definitely jaded. I go through a gamut of feelings: starting with the dissatisfaction with the status quo; then the hopeful trawling through the ads; quickly replaced by disgust at the paucity of opportunities to suit my unique set of skills – and be under no illusion, although I’m a quiet, retiring sort, personality wise, I do have a well adjusted sense of my own abilities.

Eventually a vacancy will attract my attention, followed by a flurry of days of research, updating my CV, submitting my application to meet the deadline. The days waiting for notification of making the short list are days of suspended peace, knowing I’ve done what I can and nice though a new opportunity would be, at least I have a job, so i’m not a state of desperation. 

The phone call, answered with measured eagerness, I want to appear bright and enthusiastic without losing my sense of self preservation. Another flurry of activity days, mentally preparing for the inevitable questions about what motivated me to apply; how do I deal with stress; how do I cope in conflict; what are my strengths and or weaknesses. 

I well know the answers they are looking for, the trick is to provide a personal anecdote illustrating an appropriate scenario. I know they’re looking for team players with just the right amount of initiative to fit in, progress their enterprise, but not rock the boat. It’s a bit like a complicated dance: step together, step back, twirl, and hop; the knack is to not trip over one’s own feet.

“We hope to make a decision by the end of the week.”

How long is a week, what decision takes so long? But I know in these security conscious days, referee checks and police checks are standard. So I wait, each day heart stopping for every sound alert on my phone, knowing that if it is an email it will be a reject, so hoping for the call that hasn’t come yet. Two days down.

By day three, my referees haven’t yet been contacted and my hopes are starting to wilt. Friends endeavour to allay my self doubt by recounting how long they waited to hear about their jobs. It’s these days of limbo, neither accepted or rejected, that I find the hardest.

Day five and I’m reconciled with knowing that I’m not the chosen one, but my heart still gives a leap of hope when the phone rings and the voice on the either end pronounces the outcome. Regretfully, kindly, but still a no; they were very impressed with my presentation and enthusiasm and if they had two vacancies they would definitely have offered me one, but….

I thank them, say goodbye, take a deep breath. Some rejects hurt more than others, especially when I’ve felt that it really was the job I’ve been looking for. 

A day of licking my wounds, raging, despairing, then I throw myself into some hard physical work – the house might receive major clean, or the weeds in garden may be brutally torn from the ground. Exhausted, I feel better about myself again. 

Back to the daily task of scanning the situations vacant, maybe next time.