I am back on the beloved island after six years absence and I can honestly say I’ve missed you all and my natural home and to celebrate I am resurrecting the OneWaiheke Website.
OneWaiheke is a place for think pieces, polical and social commentary, parody and observations about our special island. Its like the Gulf News but you all get to write the editorial. Note the new domain name – OneWaiheke.nz
I hope our witty previous writers will re-surface and new ones will emerge. As you can see I’ve kept the design free of noise and fluff so you can concentrate on the story. My apologies, the article photos and illustrations did not survive the hiatus.
For now enjoy a scroll back through what concerned us back then in the heady days of 2009-2016, a time before Jacinda, before Covid-19, back when we were concerned about a marina, the size of the busses, ever expanding house prices, loss of rentals, the occupy protest, a marine park, biosphere reserve, climate change and Auckland Council. Oh so much has changed.
I was exactly five and a half the day Thunderbirds first showed on TV.
I know where I was too. On the sofa at 45 Montpelier Road, Brighton, just as I had been the previous November for the first episode of Dr Who and with my Dad sitting beside me saying “This ought to be really good!”
He was quite the TV sci-fi fan in those days. I don’t think he ever found anything quite as good as the original Quatermass Experiment, but he kept trying.
Anyway, Thunderbirds was AMAZING. I’d goggled in childlike manner at Super Car, Stingray and Fireball XL5 over the past couple of years but at five and a half I was ready for something altogether more impressive. Jerry & Sylvia Anderson, bless ’em, didn’t let me down. Everything about Thunderbirds was exactly right. The designs, the grasp of futuristic technology, the chiselled determination of the IR lads, the hilarity of Parker the chauffeur and the elegant poise of his aristocratic employer, not to mention the beastly villain whom you could TELL was up to no good since he was obviously foreign.
Then there was that immortal opening title sequence with it’s stentorian countdown, the close ups of the five Thunderbird machines and the final wide screen shot of the colossal oil refinery which then exploded magnificently and for no adequately explored reason.
Utter and complete BLISS.
And here’s something else that set if very far apart for its times, it was backed up with an astonishing level of marketing, the sort you’d expect nowadays but had no idea of back then. There were exquisite models and action figures, costumes, comics, books and bubble gum cards. Tie in merchandise that was not only perfectly timed and marketed but had the incredible effect of colouring in a show that children were watching in black and white.
Go on…If you are of that generation, think back. Did you ever think of Thunderbirds in monochrome? Unless you came from a very fortunate background indeed you almost certainly watched those first screenings on a black and white Rediffusion rental set with a wobbly vertical hold. But while you remember watching William Hartnell and Partrick Troughton playing the Doctor in black and white with colour transmission only arriving with Jon Pertwee, Thunderbirds creators found a way to get our fizzy little child brains to overlay the colour onto their show for them. If that’s not bloody MAGIC I don’t know what is.
The set up for the series went like this; Millionaire ex astronaut Jeff Tracey bought himself an island in the South Pacific and named it after himself. With the help of a genius known as Brains, he developed five powerful new craft, each one piloted by one of his sons. These made up International Rescue, a philanthropic venture which set out to respond to emergencies both on Earth and in space and rescue everyone in need of such assistance.
There was Scott Tracey in Thunderbird 1, a high powered rocket plane capable of reaching the scene of each week’s disaster and coordinating the subsequent rescue.
Virgil Tracey, who had the biggest eye brows of all the five brothers, (The Andersons took much the same approach to eyebrows as Cher did to sequins. Bung ’em on, the more the better.) flew the amazing Thunderbird 2. Huge and squat, this toad like machine could lift vast weights and started each mission by selecting a ‘pod’ full of whatever equipment might be needed once it arrived.
Alan Tracey flew Thunderbird 3, a space rocket used for sorting out awkwardness in orbit or even on Mars. He was the youngest of the five sons and seemed the most inclined to romantic stuff. Not that the Andersons cluttered up their shows with even the mildest romantic nonsense. Their audience was made up of pre adolescent boys who wanted maximum explosions not yucky kissing.
Gordon Tracey piloted the submersible Thunderbird 4, a sort of multi purpose submarine which would be delivered by one of 2’s pods. He would also take charge of other T2 borne items such as ‘The Mole’.
John Tracey must have had a sick note the day the roles were allotted, not to mention a very high boredom threshold. It was his task to man the orbital space station that handled all of International Rescue’s communications. The Andersons must have realised this eventually as John was drawn into the stories in an active capacity as the series went on.
All five Tracey boys were named after real astronauts from the Mercury programme, a fact that has turned up in pub triv quizzes to numerous to count.
So each episode would feature some gorgeously designed plane, train, factory, mine, ocean liner or suchlike in which some dire emergency would suddenly strike. International Rescue would fly straight to it and, using intelligence, courage and dazzling technology they would sort it all out just seconds before some huge and enormously satisfying explosion took place.
It is testament to the show’s genius that I, like most chaps my age could, rattled off that entire introduction without having to look up a single fact on Wikepedia. In fact it may well turn out to be the measure by which the ageing marbles of Generation Jones are assessed. “Mr Knight? What did Thunderbird 6 turn out to be?”
“Whaaa? No idea!”
“He’s gone gaga. Off to the old folks home with him!”
So the news that the show was to be revived brought some cautious delight in middle aged circles. Weta Workshops were involved, the original concept was not going to be mucked about with, this might actually be rather good.
I myself got very excited and sat down immediately to write a ‘treatment’ that I planned to send to the new show’s producers. But for a jaded and nasty old cynic like myself there could be no way of going directly to the sense of child like optimism needed for a great Thunderbirds episode. I’d have to start out with a more realistic and zeitgeist laden version and then peel away the cynical layers to get at the fun stuff underneath.
Sadly, owing to a late night drinking accident I hit send on the wrong version and surprised the show’s producers with my original, realistic 21st century notes. These were returned to me some months later with a very short note explaining that my ideas were ill suited to their purposes.
Still, I thought I’d share them around before binning them so here goes;
Property billionaire Jeff Tracey has a problem. His planned bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2032 could falter pretty damn quick unless he finds a way to tidy up his somewhat patchy reputation. Those bastards in the liberal media just won’t let all that old stuff go for chrissakes! What self respectin’ businessman and wealth creator hasn’t cut a few corners from time to time? And you tellin’ me none of those guys ever had a dead hooker in the trunk of their car? It’d make you weep it really would. So a return to decent American values is what’s needed and ol’ Slippery Jeff is the man for the job.
But nothing he does seems to work. Even the knuckle draggers in the Bible Belt ain’t buyin’ his well publicised conversion to Christianity and the IRS have guys watching his office from unmarked cars across the street.
So when some deadbeat had a bright idea and suggested the International Rescue concept to him he’d realised it could be the image polisher he was looking for. So, a few months later there he was outside his New York offices, grinning like a goddamn fool though a hangover and promisin’ to set up the world’s biggest rescue contractors.
He got a couple of his boys on board. Scott and Vergil both work at head office, Scott doing the CEO stuff and Vergil chasing up the invoices for services rendered with the help of his shadowy department of ex-Black Ops enforcers. Keeping those flyin’ machines going ain’t cheap. You want rescuing, you PAY.
John’s playboy lifestyle ended with the operation that removed his entire nasal septum in one glistening, crystalline chunk. He checked out of the Swiss clicic that performed it and checked straight into the sanitorium next door where he’s been ever since. He doesn’t even come back for Christmas these days. Not that Jeff gives a damn. The sight of that little faggot twitchin’ and sniffin’ fair stuck in his craw.
Gordon got well clear and now runs some kind of tech operation in California. Though he’s nobody’s idea of a serious businessman, his detailed knowledge of his Father’s business and tax arrangements during the 2020’s has meant there’s always a timely bail-out when needed. The old man curses him sometimes but never without a certain good humour. After all, it’s not REALLY blackmail if it’s done to a family member is it? And Ol’ Jeff would have made his first billion a goddamn sight quicker if he’d had that kinda leverage over his old man.
Alan never really got over the kidnapping. He lives in an ashram in India now and keeps the hand with the missing finger well hidden. Scott, Vergil and Gordon pretend they don’t know who he is. John has genuinely forgotten.
Some PR fag suggested it might look good if the boys took part in operations but he shot that idea down pretty damn quick. That shit is DANGEROUS pal! The craft themselves are manufactured to pretty low standards in whichever countries come up with the right tax breaks! They had five T1s blow up before they got a single one to fly, and it’s just a mercy they ain’t actually been called on to take T3 into space as we’ve literally no idea what will happen.
Nah, those birds git flown by expendable nigg…I mean ‘African Americans’ who come to us from the military. They don’t cost much and we keep their sleepin’ quarters away from everyone else. Those boys do a lot a screamin’ in their sleep.
Scott did fly T1 that time they showed it off at that air show. But then he went and spoiled the effect by getting’ his huge fat ass stuck in the door when he was gettin’ out.
The idea of basin’ those death traps on Tracey Island didn’t work out too good either. Whatever that propellant shit is that Brains uses is so toxic even the Chinese won’t touch it. Even if they get a launch away safely, the poison levels mean you can’t have humans anywhere near for years after so all the launch pads have to be kept in places like Mexico and the Philippines.
But hey, the whole shootin’ match looks wonderful! They got uniforms and logo stuff an’ everything! Next time YOU got a passenger liner or jet or some goddamned thing goin’ to shit all around you, just call International Rescue! We’ll be on the scene just as soon as we’ve checked out your line of credit.
You folks take care now and remember to vote Tracey in ’32!
Art and I have had a troubled history. I like art. I like it very much. My home town in England was, and still is, a very ARTY place. One of my earliest memories was seeing the annual Summer art exhibitions that took place on the seafront beneath specially provided tent structures. In their shade, artists would work and exhibit the results. I used to watch in awe as quiet men and women, hunched over sketch pads or easels with brushes, pencils and charcoal would produce an amazing range of works and then offer them for sale.
Watching them paint and draw made me want to be just like them. I wanted that skill and I wanted that life. The complete concentration as the work was done followed by the satisfaction of being able to stand back and appreciate it. Art, I rapidly decided, was really COOL.
My parents could not have been more supportive. I was provided with as many paint boxes, brushes, paper and increasingly sophisticated modelling clays as I could have wished for. I went to good schools with well appointed art rooms and enthusiastic teachers. I took Art seriously and continued to do so right up until the age of sixteen, when, looking at my Art O level results I finally admitted to myself the terrible truth.
I have NO TALENT. None at all. Not a sausage, smidgen or skirrick. My composition, grasp of texture, depth, colour and perspective were, quite frankly, crap. I can’t draw and I can’t paint. I had just a slight talent for ceramics but not enough to ever dream of calling myself a potter or sculptor. I’d seen real ones at work and I knew I couldn’t match what they did.
Over the years, any number of people have told me that artistic skills can be learned. But they miss the point. I don’t want to have learned them! If I was to have skill, then I wanted that skill to be real, instinctive and natural, not artificially tacked on over a hopeless base.
‘Bugger’, as the famous saying has it. Still, don’t be a whinger. Move on, find things you CAN do naturally. Writing, acting and singing all came effortlessly so I concentrated on those instead. Then I found a medium in which I felt comfortably skilled. Brewing beer. I found I could do with special seeds, flowers, hot water and yeast, all the things I wanted to be able to do with paper and pencils. So that was all right. Phew…
In my 6th Form years, having admitted that trying to create Art was a waste of everyone’s time, I took to studying its history instead. This I liked very much indeed. The second year module on architecture was pretty damn fine but not a patch on the first year section on Dutch and Flemish Masters. Learning what made Van Eyke’s ‘Arnolfini Wedding’ so revolutionary and then being taken to London to look at the thing close up…Sheer bliss.
Anyway, I wave all this personal blithering at you to show that I do really CARE about this stuff and by way of a preface to my critique of those who, like me, were entirely devoid of talent, but who still persisted in trying to foist their arrant garbage on the world regardless. The ones who went on to do Art College courses aimed at instilling the pomposity to be able to pass off rubbish as somehow ‘Meaningful’. Never mind not having talent! Just learn the right condescending sneer and repeat after me; ‘Oh..I suppose you are still hung up on ‘Representational Art’ then?’ and so on.
Which brings me to the contemptuous snort inducing articles in the last few Waiheke Weekenders by my dear friend Alex Stone in which he sets the scene for this year’s Sculpture on the Gulf event with a look back at the absurdities of the previous six biennials and a couple of ghastly encomiums on local artists likely to be inflicting their nonsense on us this year.
Now I like Alex. I’ve known him for years and have spent many and amusing hour with him over beers or in the radio studio. He’s a funny writer and has the rare ability to manage to get a word in edgeways when I’m around. He is, in short, A Chap. But blatant nonsense is blatant nonsense and deserves to be noted as such. So when he recalls the embarrassing exhibit from 2005 in which a posturing ninny saw fit to place a door across the path and call it sculpture then what else can I do but call out ‘This is CRAP! Once again the stupid Emperor has no CLOTHES! We can all see the pimples on his flabby arse!’
Alex’s take on it goes as follows; ‘Aiko Groot’s ‘Door’ (2005) was-as the title implies- simply a door placed squarely across the path. The idea was you’d simply have to turn the handle, walk through the door and continue-in either direction, no matter.’
Bloody hell…Talk about Turd-Polishing. But wait, it gets worse…
‘But the power of what cannot be seen behind a closed door became a significant feature of the work. The vast majority of the folk walked around the door, creating a new pathway to the side. As Aiko said in his artist’s notes at the time; ‘A door is a powerful symbol for both inclusion and exclusion; it can welcome or keep us out.’
I’ll pause a moment while you laugh hysterically or, if necessary, vomit.
A more honest title for this exhibit might have been; ‘Oh shit! I forgot the event was this year! I’ll have to come up with something in five minutes and hope for the best.’ The tragic thing about it, and about so much of what gets the nod from the pseuds who run this event is that it involved NO SKILL of any kind. Unless you count ‘Being able to locate Placemakers and carry out a simple transaction involving the purchase of an item of household joinery.’ as a ‘skill’.
And believe me, I really don’t.
I have noted before how, several years ago, I undertook, with three friends, to include a segment called ‘A Payne in the Arts’ into a sketch comedy show. One chap played the host of the TV show while the rest of us took turns playing his guests. The lengths we had to go to to come up with artistic concepts that were more absurd than those proffered by real ‘artists’ were quite extreme and even then I am not entirely sure that we managed to imagine something so silly that you couldn’t imagine some idiot actually doing it.
The noted performer Barry Humphries tells of the horrible avant garde film director Martin Agrippa that he played in his shows during the 1970’s. This hideous and aggressive buffoon would lecture the audience on his ‘art’ at great and hilarious length. Humphries, and Australian film director Bruce Beresford had assembled a film for Agrippa to show. It was, they felt, utterly nonsensical and lampooned the serious works being offered by such fellows at the time. They were both surprised and amused when a few years later they discovered that some wag had entered it into a REAL avant garde festival where it had done very well.
The key to understanding how desperately shallow this kind of stuff is lies in the way the artists have to construct huge slabs of impenetrable guff to explain it to the viewer. Alex Stone calls this nonsense ‘The arcane obscurities of art speak’, which is posh for ‘Load of old wank produced to somehow explain the contemptible in terms that raise it to the level of art’. A genuine work of art would not require an explanation like this. Did Michaelangelo or Giotto feel the need to accompany their works with drivelling explanations involving terminology learned by rote at art school? Of course not. But then they were real ARTISTS, not fatuous hacks cobbling bits of tat together and trying to look clever.
There is, I feel, a world of difference between “Here is Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. We’ll understand if you feel the need to weep.” and “Here’s Denis O’Connor’s ‘The Tangler’s Cave. Please move away a bit before sniggering openly.”
Those who can sculpt, do. Those that can’t ‘install’.
And there I suppose is the real reason I get so fumingly irritated by this display every two years. ‘Sculpture on the Gulf’? Oh please! There’s no actual sculpture. That would involve skill. Installations, on the other hand require nothing but the ability to phone some engineering works in Onehunga or Penrose and arrange for them to weld up your stainless steel box or whatever else you fevered brain has come up with.
Alex also feels the need to state that the selectors are ‘Always an independent panel’. Independent of WHAT exactly? Taste? Discernment? Understanding of the concept of irony? He doesn’t explain. Probably just as well. It would only annoy us further.
Still, I suppose ‘Vexatious Installations on the Gulf’ wouldn’t have the same ring would it? Especially if the titles and explanations were required to be honest for a change….
Exhibit 1. ‘I’m Off My Meds!!!!!Hahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!’ By Cornelius van der Ploppy.
Fourteen cinder blocks arranged in a circle, each with a fresh egg placed on top, surrounding a fifteenth block on which no egg is placed. We attempted to get Mr van der Ploppy to explain but he ran away giggling.
Exhibit 2. ‘We Don’t Know Where the Other Bit Is.’
Formerly entitled ‘Large Metal Thing Placed Precariously on Top of Other Large Metal Thing’
In this evolving installation, noted Japanese artist Ogesana Masukaki attempts to reconcile that which ‘IS’, (Namely the bit that turned up) with that which is ‘NOT’, ( the bit that Freightlink lost somewhere and which no trace can now be found.) We think the bit you are looking at is the top bit but we can’t be sure. Mr Masukaki says he can’t remember.
Exhibit 3. ‘My Unhappy Childhood’ By Hortensia Smythe-Buttock.
Numerous cakes, sourced from an upmarket Newmarket Patisserie, placed on individual paper doilies and violently smashed. With tears.
(Ms Smythe-Buttock’s mother is on the committee and her father’s law firm are one of our major sponsors. We know what you’re thinking but fuck you. This is ART darling. These things happen.)
By Exhibit 4 you are starting to flag. Go on, admit it. It’s hot and you are thirsty and wondering why you came. Good question, because it’s time for CORRUGATED IRON! Nothing says ‘I’m a talentless poltroon who never had an original thought in my worthless and vapid life’ like bits of New Zealand’s most iconic Crap Art medium littered about the place.
Still, in another three weeks it will all be gone again and a good thing too. All we must hope if that this time around our local body politicians can resist the blandishments of the organisers and refrain from spending our money on yet more tat for Alison Park.
Some years ago I found myself working in an assortment of breweries over in Australia. One of these was a curious and ramshackle operation in a far flung corner of rural Victoria. The owner, my client, was a go-getting sort of fellow. He was smart, but in that limited way of the intelligent person who never got round to reading a few books and whose frame of reference was therefore somewhat limited. But he believed in getting his money’s worth from me and was forever asking whatever questions happened to drift across his mind. One of these concerned a substance known as isinglass. There was a large package of it in the brewery store cupboard, well past its sell-by date and long overdue to be thrown out. My client was curious about it and knew that at some point in the past this substance had been trialled in the conditioning tanks but then forgotten about.
I’d explained its function to him and assured him that I wasn’t keen to use it. I thought no more about it but clearly the subject had taken his fancy and he’d looked it up. A few days later he followed up on the matter, concerned that the use of isinglass at some unspecified point in the future would jeopardise the product’s appeal to what he described as ‘The Vegan Market’.
He was looking at me expectantly. I was clearly required to answer this patently foolish question. I quickly ran through a brief summary of veganism in my head, trying to put together a full and final answer for him. I pondered the unlikely idea of vegans buying and enjoying beer, concluded that he’d never actually met a vegan, (Rural Victoria remember?) and then tried to work out how to explain the motives of those who deliberately choose life’s minimum wage for themselves, taking in a look at the flagellants and hair shirt wearers of history. I considered the importance of making a clear distinction between the simple dietary choice of Vegetarianism and the far more serious social statement implied by Veganism.
Then I remembered that I was talking to an Australian and wisely decided to keep things simple.
“Mate,” I said, “Who gives a FUCK about vegans?”
And there the matter rested.
But I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when an off hand remark of mine on a local Facebook page regarding the importance of letting vegans starve as it wasn’t good to encourage them drew a seriously clenched up response from a person who concluded that I ‘wasn’t a very nice person’, (Which is no less than the truth) and that we would probably ‘Not Get On’ (Like I give a damn.)
I confess that I have an overwhelming urge to mock and belittle vegans. If I owned a restaurant I’d add a note to the bottom of the menu saying; “Yes! We have a Vegan Option’! It’s called The Front Lawn. Fill your boots Hay-Breath.”
Why do I behave this way? Aside from the whole ‘Not Really Being A Very Nice Person’ stuff I mentioned earlier? Many would say that I should respect other people’s choices in life and not be so judgemental of those who opt to eat nothing but potato peelings and hedge trimmings. But then those people are, I feel, missing one of the main areas of appeal for the vegan lifestyle. Deep down, vegans WANT to be disliked. They dislike themselves after all, so the scorn of others is as sweet as honey to them. (Though not real honey obviously since its production involves the exploitation of bees.)
“Oh come now!” I hear you say. “That’s surely nonsense! Vegans are simply people with deeply held ethical positions on animal exploitation and a need to eat a healthy diet”.
Well, bear with me and I’ll explain why you are mistaken. Because what you are describing are vegetarians, who are entirely different. Vegetarians are no bother to cater for. I know, I was one for a whole decade. If you are holding a barbecue or dinner party then the inclusion of a vegetarian or two on the guest list is no problem at all. The rise in availability of delicious products such as Quorn and haloumi cheese has made it all entirely simple. Vegetarians stopped squatting on the moral high ground years ago. The fact that Hitler and his odious side-kick Himmler were both staunch steak-dodgers and the Dalai Lama isn’t has rather put paid to that flimsy notion and that’s just fine. The important point is that vegetarians do not challenge the basic give and take nature of hospitality. Vegans on the other hand, challenge it quite aggressively. That famous joke about ‘How do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.’ is quite true. Vegans revel in their outsider status and will take any opportunity to bore you shitless with it. Because they know that their strident dietary demands are what sets them apart from normal social interaction. They have suffered for their diet and now, should you be unlucky enough to get one of them a s a house guest, it’s YOUR TURN.
The health aspect is decidedly questionable. I am quite sure that there are some people who can survive on a vegan diet and even a few who may thrive. But I’ve met quite a few vegans in the last year or two and it was quite plain that for most of them the health stuff is not that vital. I met one young German couple recently who were hilarious examples of this. Both were extensively self mutilated and both smoked heavily. The male one in particular had the pallor of a corpse and looked like he’d shrivel up and burn if exposed to sunlight. Clearly neither of them were vegans for the health benefits.
I suppose it should come as no surprise that so many vegans one meets these days are German. Germany has always been a big player in the ‘Self-Harm for Sanctimonious Reasons’ business. They didn’t start the Flagellant movement in the 13th and 14th centuries, that was the Spanish and Italians, but they developed it in their usual rather gloomy and mechanical way until it became a vast undertaking with hordes of glum, penitent men marching about the countryside whipping themselves bloody and moaning loudly. They also spread plague, which some people found a bit annoying.The important thing about this self flagellation was not just that you did it but that as many people as possible got to SEE you do it. The same is true of veganism. What’s the point of going to all the misery of a fun-free diet if you can’t go about shoving that misery under people’s noses?
So while it is tempting to simply write vegans off as half witted toddlers refusing any food they find ‘yuckky’, it is more interesting to look deeper into what makes people wish to go to such sad extremes in the cause of public suffering. In its most developed form we can witness the appalling self mutilation of Phillipinos each Easter, nailing themselves to crosses to prove something or other which I for one can’t be arsed to investigate. Devout sects in Italy do similar stuff as do Shiite Muslims in Iran and Catholics in New Mexico. The important thing to realise is that this pain is in no way hedonistic. These are not Peter Plomley-Walker style shenanigans involving riding crops, stern women in corsets and safe words. This is not meant to be fun and it clearly isn’t. It’s about genuine suffering, inflicted to strengthen resolve and define one’s imagined purity and singleness of purpose. These examples are all religiously driven of course, humans are always at their worst when doing nasty stuff that they imagine will make their ugly, bad tempered Gods happy.
But the dour and self denying lifestyle is not confined to those who imagine gods for themselves. Our increasingly secular world still has to provide outlets for expression among those for whom less is MORE. The stern, the unbending, the neo-puritans and the anti fun types.
I dislike these people. They annoy me and I want to annoy them. Which I clearly do.
The dissident feminist writer and academic Camille Paglia, who had already won my admiration for declaring that she cherished “performance, artifice and play rather than earnestness.” then went on to win it even further by predicting, quite accurately in my view, that this century would be defined less by the oppositions of gender, politics and faith and more primally by the opposition of the followers of Apollo and those of Dionysus. Which is pretty much what I see from where I’m sitting, (which is above a brewery, overlooking a vineyard and pondering the new drink driving laws….)
If you don’t quite get the classical allusion to all of this then look it up. That’s what Google is there for.
So if we must choose between those two vastly different sons of Zeus, then I’m with Dionysus all the way. It’s fun, frolics and great big meals with ALL the trimmings for me thank you very much. And if you are of a different view then you go for it. But don’t expect me not to mock you mercilessly. I’m only human.
Nicky Hager’s book ‘Dirty Politics’ threatens to destroy the facade of #TeamKey’s image of a ‘Mr Nice Guy’, who sits above the fray and ties him directly to this behaviour, as well as implicating his staff and ministers in potentially illegal activities.
This is a little more disturbing than the muckraking of earlier eras, which sought to cast light on the abuse of power, this is the abuse of power! John Key seems quite comfortable with members of his staff and/or party helping themselves to the private information of Labour party members through hacking their website, and he continues to stand by his justice minister Judith Collins after she admitted giving the personal details of a public servant to Slater, opening him to death threats. The Greens have rightly called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry and in Government would instigate it.
Yet Waiheke has not been immune to the rise of the attack blog. Ever since being voted out of office in the 2013 local body elections, former Waiheke Local Board deputy chair Jo Holmes and her sidekick Jerry Flay, along with ‘anonymous’ guest bloggers have been publishing daily blogs attacking: The Mayor, the new Waiheke Local Board Members, especially Paul Walden, Denise Roche, Green MP based on Waiheke, her partner and daughter, me, and anyone associated with Green or progressive politics anywhere.
Far from being a discussion of policies and ideas, the daily blog posts have been heavy on the personal attack, making unfounded accusations and relying heavily on superficial comments on people’s appearance. As Martyn Bradbury points out “Politics can be angry, politics can be loud. – but hateful? Hate politics has no place in a modern democracy”
In the Waiheke Whale Oil ‘joholmes.com’, Denise Roche is referred to as ‘an old bag’, Becs Ballard is referred to as ‘Barbie’ I am called ‘a silly little boy’, and implications alluding to physical characteristics of Denise’s 15 year old daughter have been made too.
Whilst for many the blog may be a form of light entertainment, as it is far more entertaining than any satire of the subject material could be, it is scarily serious. Jo has written or hosted pieces in favour of single use disposable plastic bags, blogged against the public fruit tree project in Blackpool, railed against the concept of ‘fairtrade’, and has called Generation Zero (the youth climate change action group) “just like the Hitler youth”! Whilst it would be amusing if read as satire, like The Civilian, or The Onion, there is no reason to believe that the views expressed there are not genuinely held. Jo admires and models herself on Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil blog. I’ll say that again: Jo admires Cameron Slater, and proudly considers her blog the Waiheke equivalent.
It’s not so much that anyone outside her close circle of attack dogs takes her seriously, however, in fact the most frequent response of a new reader of the blog is “Is this for real? Or hilarious satire?” It’s more a question we need to ask ourselves;
“Is this new medium of the attack blog what we’re about on Waiheke?”
Jo Holmes still holds that the path that her administration was taking on the Waiheke Local Board was the right one, despite the community opposition, and that she and the rest of the ‘A’ Team lost their positions not because they were making unpopular decisions and ignoring the public sentiment, but that it was because of a conspiracy and media bias against her by the Gulf News paper on the island. She refuses to see that the Waiheke electorate made a very clear judgement on her time on the board, believing herself to be the victim of an orchestrated conspiracy against her benevolent regime.
This lack of insight, and unwillingness to examine ones self and their actions, preferring to blame everyone else around them, is undignified behaviour, and the daily barrage of negativity is not in the spirit of the Waiheke. This is not the direction I think we want local politics to take.
Other bloggers on this site have encouraged people to just ignore the blog and deny it an audience. But like a screaming toddler in the corner, ignoring only makes the shouts louder. Jo and Jerry patted themselves on the back when members of Generation Zero took to the comments section of her blog responding to the outrageous Nazi claims. Measuring success in having upset people.
No, I would encourage the opposite. Steel yourself and go and a look at what is being put out there on that blog. Challenge the accusations made and ask for proof. Be informed as to what she is about, what she stands for and how she conducts herself. Waiheke’s own Whale Oil. Is it gonna fly on the island of the Rainbow Warriors?
In light of the dirty politics revelations, I encourage Jo to put forward a positive alternative vision of how she would like the island and the city to go. Engage in the conversation, discuss policies and proposals, rather than slimy Whale Oil attacks on individuals and the community. Talk about issues.
“At the end of the day” Spreading rumours is not journalism, and slander is not debate.
Michael Tavares is an Environment, Transport and Sustainability advocate, the Convenor of the Waiheke Green Party, a Trustee on the Waiheke Resources Trust and a Committee Member of the Hauraki Islands Forest and Bird Society Branch. He maintains the blog www.micheltavares.net, a positive Waiheke Blog celebrating this wonderful island and it’s community. His views are his own.
School holidays are with us again and small children are everywhere. Some noisy, some quiet, but all with demands. Lots of demands. Food, treats, toys, stimulation, you name it. Children need LOTS of stuff and demand it the only way they can. With endless repetition and the threat of tears and copious quantities of mucus and noise if their requirements are not instantly met. It’s horrible, but it’s part of growing up.
“Oh God,” you’re all thinking, “That beer bloke is going on about kids again. What does he know about it? He doesn’t even have any!”
Well bear with me because that is NOT where I’m headed with this. I know you all love your offspring. You give them names and dress them up in little clothes and so on and that’s lovely I’m sure. But its ADULTS I want to look at today. Adults that employ the tactics of toddlers because somehow the world has bent out of shape enough to make them think they can get away with it.
I was drawn to this subject by a curious article that appeared on the net yesterday. You can find the link here;
The gist of this is that a New York restaurant found itself facing complaints about service. It reviewed security footage from ten years before and discovered that it was doing the same stuff, just as efficiently, but that the CUSTOMERS had become less efficient. Their obsessive use of mobile technology meant that everything took longer. Rather than order food politely, wait patiently for it to arrive, eat it and then bugger off again tidily, most restaurant patrons are deep into their online lives and everyone else can damn well wait until they take a break from tapping ‘LOL’ and so forth into their little electronic chums.
Of course it is a common complaint these days that people really do spend too much time looking at phones and tablets so I’m not going to add to that. Besides, I am far from innocent of such behaviour myself. I simply LOVE my little Black Mirror and use it a lot too so I can’t take issue with people who do it excessively.
What shocked me more than anything with that article was not the electronic bad manners but the revelation that in 2004 just three people out of forty five were rude and arrogant enough to demand a different table while ten years later that figure had risen to EIGHTEEN out of forty five. My limited grasp of mathematics is not up to working out the percentage increase in people being ill mannered but then it hardly needs to when faced with a rise of that magnitude in just a decade. That figure is simply astonishing, not to mention deeply disturbing. There have always been people for whom having more than enough money acts as a substitute for being polite or considerate. The sloppy rich twit who thinks being rude to waiters is clever or endearing will always, alas, be with us. But, given that the ordinarily paid have grown poorer in the last ten years, what are we to make of the fact that BEHAVING like a spoiled, rich wanker is growing more popular even if these folk don’t have the money to make the rudeness genuinely gold plated? What on earth has happened to us in just ten years to make us think this is a fine way to carry on?
If there is one thing any sensible adult knows it is that being rude to people in shops, restaurants, airports and other such places is really dumb. I have a friend who never grasped this and was always full of bracing tales of how forcefully he demanded better service on airlines during his many business trips abroad. He seemed to think this showed some sort of prestige. I just smiled quietly during his bumptious monologues on the subject and imagined just what hijinks went on in the aircraft galley as the flight attendants added bodily exudates to his meals.
Because, make no mistake on this point, THEY DO. So do waiters in restaurants and if you believe otherwise then you are deluded. The old axiom of ‘Always put a little of yourself into every job’ has a very specific meaning to service industry staff who have to smile politely out front during some childish rant from a customer with an inflated sense of self importance. Once those harried waiters get behind the scenes then THEY are in charge and the rude customer will find their smiles just that bit more genuine once that specially treated meal is placed before them.
All of which should be perfectly obvious and if the wealthy and inconsiderate find themselves dining on the contents of a waiter’s nose then this is right and proper and all is well with the world. But, this is going off topic just a bit. Let us get back to the way in which even the most runny nosed service industry staff are finding themselves hard pressed to keep up with demand for their nasal contents and having to fall back on good old fashioned spit in the coffee.
Help me out here. I’ve worked in various service industry jobs and as a result I have NEVER gone into a restaurant or café and demanded a different table to the one I was offered. It has simply never occurred to me to do so. It’s just a bloody TABLE for heaven’s sake. I’m not planning on buying it. I’m not looking for a relationship with it. I just want somewhere to sit as I find eating food while standing up to be disagreeable. But surely someone reading this must have done it and I’d love to know why. What was it about standing there like a huge toddler and saying “I don’t want that table! I want THAT one!” that met some need in you? Looking back at that figure of three complaints rising to eighteen complaints indicates that behaving like a confused infant in public is far more popular than it used to be. The average article on this site gets fifty or so readers, so statistically at least a few of you reading this have sunk to this level of public nastiness. ‘Fess up. Let’s hear WHY.
Until I get a different explanation from someone who behaves like this then I can draw just two possible conclusions. Firstly, it is possible that, as chaps like Desmond Morris explained so well, humans copy behaviours from the more powerful of their species. We indicate status by adopting clothes and mannerisms from those we perceive to be more successful. For example, a hundred years ago, the wealthy viewed suntanned skin as being a mark of manual labour and stayed well out of the sun lest they end up looking like a navvy. Yet within a lifetime suntanned skin had changed its social signal entirely and the poorly paid were rushing off to destroy their complexions in horrible sun beds so as to give the impression of having been overseas on an expensive holiday. Styles of clothing and the naming of children follow the same top downwards trajectory. So it might be possible to infer that the arrogant and puffed up attitudes of some wealthy folk towards their social inferiors has become something that the less well paid seek to ape in order to appear better off than they inevitably are.
Which is pretty bloody tragic.
Personally though, I have another suggestion. It’s not a nice thought but I have to say it. We are becoming infantilised as a society. The idea that we should laugh and play like children has always been a pleasant one. It IS nice to do so from time to time, but we seem to have grown more accepting of the darker side to this and begun to believe that screaming, pouting and yelling like children is also good. Sadly the proof of this is becoming more apparent.
I was a child at a time when the retail industry hadn’t quite figured out what we now call ‘Pester Power’. Back then, the good stuff that we kids could throw a tantrum over was all kept in sweet and toy shops that our parents had the ability to keep us out of if they chose. The rudimentary supermarkets of Britain in the 60’s simply hadn’t got round to filling the shelves by the checkouts full of sweet and colourful things that drew our eyes and made us fractious. But by the late 1980’s the first pester power kids were entering adult life and the results were not always pretty. I particularly remember a tubby lad from Montreal that I used to work with. Ten years younger than me, he’d grown up as the youngest child in a large family and appeared to have been wretchedly indulged. The smug look of a kid whose mother gave in every time he screamed was writ large upon him and it was a sad thing to see. For now he was discovering that adult life was full of people that couldn’t have cared less for his sense of entitlement and who simply laughed in his face or ignored him when he drummed his heels and pouted when things weren’t exactly to his liking.
But that was twenty five years ago and nowadays he and his type are a lot happier. Because now there are enough overgrown toddlers infesting the world that commerce has found it profitable to embrace them. Fast food chains in particular have discovered that enough adults exist in a perpetually infantilised state to make their businesses flourish. Bright and gaudy colour schemes combine with squashy burgers packed with sugar and fat to create a dining environment in which four year olds of ALL ages can feel entertained and satisfied.
Now that would be fine if they stayed at McDonalds, but the overgrown toddler mentality is creeping out all over, and the result is the unpleasant statistic discovered by that restaurant in New York. And it’s the same here. Businesses run by grownups FOR grownups are having to tolerate the infantilised market in order to compete and this is a tragedy. For it is not just the sugar and fat eating crowd that we have to listen to these days but that other dreadful manifestation of the spoiled infant, The Food Faddist. The snivelling, self-obsessed little twerp for whom no meal can possibly be acceptable until their gamut of obsessive high fibre/gluten free/organic/lactose intolerant bullshit has been run through in front of everybody. I think I despise these types of overgrown children the most.
How nice it would be to visit a restaurant in which a fatuous ninny at the next table was simply called on his toddler-like behaviour! Imagine the scene if you will…. Screen goes all wavy…..
“Excuse me! Excuse me! Waiter!!!!”
“I don’t like this! The table is the wrong size and in the wrong place. I want to sit by the window on a better chair and I want my egg cooked like that person’s over there and whatever those green bits are in the quiche look yucky! There’s a salt shaker on my table which is offensive ‘cos I’m on a low sodium diet and this coffee tastes like it still has some caffeine in it and I don’t do caffeine. There should be more gluten free items on the menu ‘cos I’m eating gluten free now since I read a thing on the internet about Gwyneth Paltrow doing it. Basically, I want everything changed round and I don’t want to have to pay my bill ‘cos you didn’t do any of the things I want properly.”
“Now, what we are going to do is this. You are going to leave now. Go away,and don’t come back until you’ve learned to behave in public like a grown up. If you can manage that and do wish to return then bring a fucking note from your DOCTOR proving you are intolerant of certain foods or we’ll just assume you are a wanker who just likes whining about stuff instead. Your infantile behaviour falls below an acceptable standard and all the other patrons around you think you’re a fuckwit and can’t wait to see the back of you. Are we clear on this? Good. Now, off you fuck.”
THAT, I believe is a restaurant I’d be proud to visit.
I would like to add that if anyone is ‘offended’ by any of the above then I am delighted. Feel free to let me know how much my observations have annoyed you as this will amuse me greatly.
In conclusion I would like to sign off with this list from the great journalist Michael Bywater who has written an entire book on the tricky topic. In order to appear publicly as at least vaguely adult he makes the following suggestions;
How to be an adult.
Don’t be affronted.
Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about ‘inappropriateness’) is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance
Mistrust anything catchy, whether it’s the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding (‘New Labour’). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves
Ignore celebrities, except when they are doing what they are celebrated for doing: acting, playing football et cetera. Skill does not confer moral, political or intellectual discrimination. (Except in the case of writers. Writers know everything and can lecture you with impunity.) If a celebrity is not celebrated for doing anything but being a celebrity, smile politely but pay no notice
We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation
Consider our own motivations. We may rail about being treated like children, ordered about, kept from the truth, nannied and exploited… but are we complicit in it? Could the reward actually be infantilisation itself?
Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don’t have any. We don’t want to be in their boat
Its purpose is to free the organisation to do what it’s meant to do: but the triumph of the administrators – the lawyers, the accountants, the professional managers – means that too many organisations now believe that what they are meant to do is administer themselves. This is a profoundly infantile attitude
Do not love yourself unconditionally. Such love is for babies and comes from their mothers. Ignore fashion, particularly in clothes. You don’t want to look like a teenager for ever
Never do business with a company offering ‘solutions’ as in ‘ergonomic furniture solutions which minimise the postural strain associated with sitting’ (chairs) and ‘Post Office mailing solutions’ (brown paper). The word suggests we have a problem, but since we are grown-ups, that is for us to decide
Denounce relativism at every turn. Shouting ‘not fair’ is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don’t fear seriousness. Babies aren’t allowed to be serious
Watch our language.
Is there really much difference between a six-year-old in a fright-wig and his father’s waders shouting ‘I’m the Mighty Wurgle-Burgle-Urgley-Goo’ and an ostensible grown-up demanding to be called ‘Tony Blair’s Respect Tsar’?
Grown-ups are not required to be perpetually accountable, while the instincts of government and big business, both of which are, almost by their nature, great infantilisers, are to keep an eye on everyone all the time
Eat it up.
There is nothing more babyish than having dietary requirements
Never vote for, do business with or be pleasant to anyone who uses the words ‘ordinary people’
The other night I was talking, over an ale or two, naturally, to a friend who has just returned from a holiday in Hawaii. He was explaining how popular Spam seems to be over there and how this strange and frankly horrible product is now being made in assorted ‘gourmet’ flavours. Somebody decided that Chorizo flavoured Spam was a good idea and others seemed willing to accept this strange decision and actually eat it. Not only that, but he even saw macadamia nuts, (Which Hawaii produces in vast and delicious quantities) available in Spam Flavour.
This revelation produced a horrible moment of shared disgust among the assembled company and we all took that half gulp, half deep breath that all humans do when faced with something too vile to contemplate. Spam is not something that any of us present had eaten in decades. As a foodstuff it rates only very slightly above pet food in most people’s perception.
I first met Spam at the age of four. I went to a very good primary school and I can think of half a dozen friends and relations that went there too and I am sure they will remember this as vividly as I do. The school took its teaching responsibilities seriously and while it went to great lengths to show us kids that the world could be full of colour, fun, music, games and shouting for joy, they also took similar care to demonstrate to us that the world could also be a bleak and joyless place in which sadness, adversity and gloom had to be met head on and accepted. This they did using Spam.
At least once every two weeks we would troop hungrily into the hall for lunch and be faced with the horror of Spam. It was clearly taken from some huge catering pack and served in perfectly round slices along with the scraps of greenery that passed for salad in 60’s Britain. It was, quite simply, inedible. It was a depressing synthetic pink in colour, smelled of chemicals and tasted of sadness. We’d sit and cut faces or shapes into it, putting off the horrible moment when we would have no choice but to eat it. And eat it we would, since this was post war Britain. Rationing had only, finally, been abandoned less than a decade before and the country still ran on the ‘Food-is-Fuel’ mentality and you were still meant to be pathetically grateful for anything not actually poisonous.
“You’ll eat it and like it!” “That’s good food! You can’t let it go to waste!” “There are starving children in India!”, and of course the terrible; “No pudding until you’ve eaten your MEAT!”
Once I left primary school they found other ways of showing us how crap life could be such as compulsory rugby and beatings and I was never again to eat Spam. In fact I had almost forgotten that it still existed until Monty Python suddenly gave it a boost in their unforgettable ‘Spam Sketch’. The hilarious spectacle of Terry Jones as the proprietor of some gloomy café, reeling off the endless list of meals containing more and more improbable quantities of Spam while a table full of Vikings in the corner broke into song about the stuff suddenly made it seem at least funny.
Almost iconic in fact. Though neither funny nor iconic enough to make me want to eat it again. Indeed, during my impoverished and drunken younger days I ate many revolting things, especially late at night. I’ve even eaten saveloys and doner kebabs (and kept them down too) but I have never been hungry or degraded enough to have touched Spam.
(Just an aside here. My research on the internet into Spam reveals that the famous Python sketch led to the name Spam being applied to unwanted email, though who first decided this is unclear.)
Many countries boast revolting foodstuffs. Scotland has Haggis, which, despite its seemingly disgusting provenance is actually delicious. In Iceland they eat rotted shark which people have weed on. Yet these ‘delicacies’ are presented with swagger and a knowing grin. There’s something defiantly fun about them. But Spam makes no such claims. It is simply nasty, cheap canned ‘meat-style’ food substitute, cheaply packaged and without flair of any kind.
So where could it have come from? Personally, I was AMAZED to find my own country guiltless. I had always simply assumed that anything so deliberately joyless could only have been developed in Britain. But no. Spam is as American as apple pie and school shootings. It was invented by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937, and while its brand name is taken to mean ‘Spiced Ham’, it appears that the name actually means something else which they don’t want to tell us and I don’t want to think about.
The American do produce a lot of CRAP food. But, no matter how squashy, fake, horrible and unhealthy these foods may be, our American cousins usually manage to package and advertise them as if they were wholesome, nutritious and fun. The Big Mac is the ultimate example of this on the worldwide scale though a visit to an American supermarket will turn up foods even more unlikely and appalling. Yet even the worst of these will be presented in bright and irresistible packs, hinting at untold gastronomic delight.
Not Spam though. Oh dear no. Spam is, for all its horror, presented in dull and honest tins that promise nothing save for disappointment and self-loathing. Spam is the ultimate anti-fun food.
Yet it is still made, and, we must assume, sold. A look at the tinned meat shelves here at our local supermarket shows that Hormel’s Spam occupies a standard one metre shelf and is available in standard ‘Inedible’, ‘Inedible Low Sodium’, ‘Bacon’ and ‘Turkey’ flavours. Yet just a few feet away lie the inexpressible delights of a New Zealand meat chiller, containing meats of a quality unheard of in many countries. Ten dollars will get you a rump steak so tender you’d think it came from a cow tended by angels, pork chops so rich and flavourful they look like they’ll cook themselves for you, and of course the best lamb available anywhere on Earth. Yet enough people are prepared to bypass these fresh meats and buy Spam instead. It defies belief.
Over the last couple of days I have asked pretty much everyone I’ve encountered if they have eaten Spam recently. None of them have, which came as no surprise. But every single one of them reacted as if I’d asked them if they’d eaten dog roll. Or drunk from a puddle. But then the kind of people I know tend, like me, to be serious about food. So I decided to sit down, write about my curiosity and see if anyone else feels like saying, as Eric Idle’s character did in that sketch; “I LOVE SPAM!”
Who still eats it? Do you have favourite recipes for it? What is it that draws you to its jellified and synthetic delights? Do you feed it to children? (And if so, what did your children do to deserve this?) Answers below please. I’ll even waive my normal refusal to allow replies from anonymous responders in this case. I can see why you’d want to keep this habit a secret.
Gather round everybody, gather round. I have a tale to tell of a hero tragically unsung. His obscurity is something that any decent person would wish to see swept away and if ever a chap deserved to be sung about in loud tones then this is the fellow.
Now your basic Unsung Hero is hardly a rare beast. For every statue erected of grumpy monarchs, self-serving legislators and blood spattered generals there should be similar monuments to any number of men and women who have added, in some way or another, to the sum of human knowledge, security and happiness.
That’s life though. Few of these folks will ever find enough champions to demand that their memory be honoured with some lasting memorial, but the gentleman I wish to tell you of really does require greater recognition, and if this tale serves to bring his honourable name to wider attention then I shall have at least made a start.
There’s a personal aspect to this story too, since the chap in question is buried in my hometown of Brighton in Sussex. As a youngster, I’d walk through the churchyard of St Nicholas at least once a week on my way into town, noting the more famous resting places of Nicholas Tattersall, (the sea captain that sailed the future King Charles the 2nd to France following his defeat at the battle of Worcester) Martha Gunn, (The large and terrifying woman who first encouraged visitors to the town to get their swimming gear on and actually immerse themselves in sea water) and the remarkable Phoebe Hessel whose life story deserves an entirely separate article. Their names I knew. But for some reason the most illustrious inhabitant of the quiet church yard was unknown to me. I must have walked past his simple but handsome gravestone a thousand times and I blush to think that it is only now that I realise what I was missing.
The man in question was Sake Dean Mahomed.
Admit it. You haven’t heard of him either. Yet this was a man who should rightly be a household name, his statue in every town and his portrait on the wall of every…. But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
I discovered Mr Mahomed, or ‘Doctor Brighton’ as he was known in his lifetime, simply because I wanted to know where the word ‘Shampoo’ came from. That strange word is in front of you in the shower every morning. Where could it have originated? French perhaps? No. The French word is exactly the same only with ‘ing’ on the end. (What a crazy day THAT must have been at the Academie Francais as the learned gents deliberated on how to admit this curious new word into their obsessively over-protected language.)
Well, if the good lord had meant us to be in the dark on such matters he would not have given us Wikipedia. It was the matter of a moment or two to discover that the word derives from the Hindi word ‘Champo’, meaning head massage, and was brought to the British Isles by Sake Dean Mahomed who opened the first Shampoo parlour in Brighton in the early years of the 19th century. Well, all things Brightonian are of interest to me so I read a little more on this splendid Bengali gentleman. Mr Mahomed was born in Patna, India in 1759. His exactly birthday is unrecorded, which is a crying shame as it should be marked as a day of international celebration, but no matter, we can surely pick another date for the purpose, but more on that later. At the tender age of ten he met an Anglo Irish army captain by the name of Godfrey Evan Baker and found his way into the service of the East India Company as a surgeon. He remained in Captain Baker’s unit until Baker’s retirement in 1782, at which point he decided to accompany his friend back to Britain. Two years later, while living and studying in Ireland, he met an attractive young lady by the name of Jane Daly, and, despite the objections of her family, converted from Islam to the Anglican faith and eloped with her.
The pair then moved from Ireland to Brighton, then to London and finally back to Brighton where they raised five children and spent the rest of their lives. While in London, Mahomed worked for the Scottish entrepreneur Basil Cochrane at his ‘Vapour Baths’ in Portman Square and his curious new method of ‘Shampooing’ the scalps of Cochrane’s wealthy clients proved popular. However, his employer must have been a difficult man to work with. A contemporary described this gentleman and his brothers thus; ‘The Cochranes are not to be trusted out of sight. They are all romantic, mad, money –getting and not truth telling- and there is not a single exception in any part of that family.’ Ouch. With a write up like that we can assume that Saturday nights at their place must have been a blast, but not the kind of people you’d find it easy to be in business with.
Small wonder then that Mahomed soon struck out on his own and in 1814 opened his own premises on the Brighton seafront. This combined Turkish baths and shampoo establishment was a roaring success and set the family up in fine style. The patronage of the Prince Regent himself set the seal on Mahomed’s status and he found himself appointed ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ to both the Prince Regent and his successor William the 4th.
This royal patronage was to end with the accession to the throne of Victoria, who took one look at the Brighton Pavilion and declared that she could not possibly spend so much as a night there. She can hardly be faulted for this I have to admit. The Pavilion, though magnificent, is possibly the most hallucinatory and vulgar royal palace ever built. So the party town of the south coast lost its royal connection forever, but by this time Mahomed had his life well in order. He died at a ripe old age in February 1851 and went to his rest in the graveyard of St Nicholas. He had authored numerous books on subjects as diverse as surgery, thalassotherapy and the history of the Mughal Empire as well as an account of his own life and travels. He was, in short, A Chap.
But, you may be thinking at this point, is that it? Introducing shampoo to the world at large is an achievement, certainly, but weren’t you going on about public monuments earlier? Is there something else that he did that got you so worked up? Don’t tell me he invented India Pale Ale as well?
Well no gentle reader he didn’t do anything quite THAT impressive, but he did do the absolute next best thing. You see, I have saved the best bit until now. The bit that should, if you are any kind of decent person have you googling his name and clamouring for his memory to be better looked after. For Sake Dean Mahomed opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain.
Pause for that one to sink in. Now let me repeat that in a font size more suited to such a statement;
HE OPENED THE FIRST INDIAN RESTAURANT IN BRITAIN.
If my design talents were up to the job, that sentence would be surrounded by elaborate curlicues and flourishes, with maybe a bare bottomed cherub or two about the margins, blowing trumpets. Because Sake Dean Mahomed really was that much of a Chap. He brought the first curry house to Blighty. Now tell me THAT isn’t worthy of a bloody great big marble statue or two.
Let me state, and I will brook no argument on this, that the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent is one of mankind’s greatest achievements. In its multitudinous forms it has brought untold joy and fulfilment to everyone who has encountered it. Show me a town without an Indian restaurant and I’ll show you a bleak, desolate and unhappy place in which I would not linger for more than a minute.
So let’s try and set things to rights shall we? Indian restaurateurs, set Mahomed’s portrait prominently on your walls. It’s right there on the internet and he’s a handsome looking fellow. Let his peaceful and intelligent face gaze down from the red flock wall coverings and over the happy throng eating at your tables. Give this man his due. He brought something far better to the world than most of us could ever dream of. I myself shall begin tomorrow and I urge you all to do likewise. I shall print off his portrait, have it framed at my own expense and head without delay to Ajadz restaurant where I shall linger over a fine lunch and present it to the owners with a full explanation.
One third of the content of this blog is from an essay I wrote. The rest is opinion. The essay got me thinking.
For the sake of transparency, social justice has always been a subject of which I am passionate about – borne out of a set of values I grew up with but also through the experiences of personal struggle despite a modest financial background (privileged by all intents and purposes if we were to compare it to two-thirds of the rest of the world). While I managed to overcome those struggles, the experience led to a recognition and an empathy for the struggle of others – a struggle which might be prevented – and and understanding that the devastating costs to them, their family and society might in fact be unnecessary.
Social Justice & Social Policy 101
Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.1Defining “social policy” however is more difficult simply because social policy relates to anything to do with family life – and it could be argued that all policy relates to family life and either positively or negatively affects family life in some way.2 To attempt to define social policy, we might look at some examples of past and current issues that have been cause for debate politically for New Zealand that would be described as social policy. These include (but are not limited to) Tangata Whenua/Biculturalism and the Treaty of Waitangi, Gender issues, Housing, Human Rights, Child Abuse, Child Poverty, Welfare issues, Health and Mental Health policies, Education policies, Employment policies.3
Wellness and Human Rights
Coming from a background in nursing, my understanding of “wellness” has always been an holistic one – incorporating the physical, emotional/psychosocial, cultural, spiritual aspects of a person. Author Humphrey McQueen4 writes that wellness is affected by education, employment, housing, working conditions and nutrition as well as healthcare. The controversy lies in whether these are a human right5 (or to what degree they are a human right) and each political ideology has a different take on it.
What Political Ideology Do You Subscribe To?
While there are a wide range of political ideologies, for the purpose of simplicity, I will describe the main political ideologies that these fall under: Liberalism, Conservatism, Socialism and the “Third Way”.
Key elements of Liberalism include individualism, freedom, reason, equality, toleration, consent and constitutionalism. Variations of Liberals include classic and modern liberalism. Heywood6 in “Political Ideologies” writes: “Individualism is the core principle of liberal ideology. It reflects a belief in the supreme importance of the human individual as opposed to any social group or collective body. Human beings are seen, first and foremost, as individuals.” Liberalism believes in and values individual freedom (or liberty) and this is given priority over equality, justice or authority. In terms of “reason” liberals believe that the world has a rational structure and that individuals possess the ability to exercise human reason and critical enquiry and therefore make wise judgments on their own behalf and usually for their own best interests. Liberals believe that people are “born equal” and are “morally equal” and are born to an equal playing field to that of others and success is based on their own achievement and therefore support the idea of meritocracy. Liberals believe in “freedom of speech” and tolerance of all speech is enriching to society. Liberals believe in consent or willing agreement between authority as well as social relationship and while they may believe that Government is vital to stability – they do believe in limited Government.
Key elements of Conservatism include tradition, pragmatism, human imperfection, organicism, hierarchy, authority and property. Variations of Conservatives include paternalistic conservatism, neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. Conservatives value tradition and cleave to ideas that have been “tested through time” and which promotes security and stability. Abstract thoughts and principles are distrusted and faith is placed in experience, history and pragmatism – the belief that action should be a product of practical circumstances and practical goals. Invariably, conservatives believe that human beings are corrupted by selfishness, greed and the thirst for power and therefore Government is needed for the enforcement of strict laws and harsh penalties. They believe that a hierarchy of social position and status is a natural part of organic society, that a person’s “station in life” is a product of luck or “accident of birth” and that those more privileged have a duty to care for the “less fortunate”. This belief in hierarchy is also represented in their view of authority where people are governed from the “top down” and give leadership and guidance to those ranking lower in the hierarchy as they are seen to lack knowledge, experience or education. They also believe families to be the “fabric of society”and that property is vital to security, stability and independence from Government.7
Socialism developed “as a reaction against the emergence of industrial capitalism” writes Heywood8. Key elements of socialism are community, fraternity, social equality, need, social class and common ownership. Variations of Socialism include Marxism, Communism and Social-Democracy. The core value of Socialism is the importance of Community – or the social interaction and membership of social groups and collective bodies. The idea that “no man is an Island” also points to the belief that behaviour can be a product of nurture (social factors) rather than nature (innate qualities). Socialists favour co-operation to competition and collectivism over individualism working towards the outcome of building community as opposed to creating further isolation and conflict. What is also central to a Socialist’s point of view is social equality. Unlike the Liberals, Socialists believe that it is not enough that people are considered morally equal – but that socially, there should be equal outcomes and not just equal opportunities. To achieve this, Socialists believe that material benefits should be distributed based on need rather than merit or work. While modern Socialists have moved away from the notion of common ownership, “the Socialist’s goal is either the eradication of economic and social inequalities or their substantial reduction.”9
In the 1990’s, in response to decades in opposition, the British Labour Party came up with a strategy now recognized as the “Third Way.” While upholding the core values of Social-Democracy in terms of social justice, equality and individual freedom, according to Anthony Giddens (academic on the Third Way)10 it was decided that they had to “find a new balance between individual and collective responsibilities…somewhere between the extremes of ‘uncaring’ individualism on the right and ‘costly’ collectivism on the left.” New Zealand’s version of “Third Way”was the Clark-led Labour Government.
Child Poverty and Social Policy
To explore social policy fully, we could reasonably take any issue relevant to family “wellness”, but let’s take a look at the issue of child poverty and the role of welfare1112131415 in New Zealand as an example. Why? Because children are arguably the most vulnerable within our society:
They do not choose the environment to which they are born and raised
They do not have a voice unless it is given to them
They are (for the most part) powerless
They are dependent upon the adults in their lives and the influence of society
And also I happen to value them.
A Socialist’s View on Child Poverty
In 2011, Bryan Bruce made a documentary series on Child Poverty in New Zealand called “Inside Child Poverty” where he revealed the experiences of 1 in 5 children in New Zealand living below the poverty line16 In his response to what could be described as a “Third Way” Budget in an election year (2014) delivered by John Key and Bill English from the National Government, Bruce wrote on his Facebook page17 about the intervention he wanted to see from the Government in response to child poverty. He writes that the Government had moved from a position of denial of child poverty in 2011 to now a reluctant acknowledgment and that the Budget included some spending towards reducing child poverty such as free healthcare for children under the age of 13 (whereas heathcare was not free for children under 6 in 2011), and that there was now a move towards warrants of fitness for homes to address the number of children hospitalized with respiratory illnesses; but he implores his readership to vote according to those parties who would put in place policies that would intervene to prevent or improve child poverty in New Zealand. Specifically he mentions warrants of fitness for all rental properties, increasing paid parental leave to one year, the introduction of free 24/7 medical care for everyone under 18, state ownership of the entire electricity system to be run as a public utility and not-for-profit, a living wage rather than a minimum wage, the removal of GST from food and an introduction on luxury tax, creating state loans to build affordable housing, and taking part in a cross party talks after the election to end child poverty.18 Bruce’s social policy would closely align with a Socialist’s point of view.
In reference to the budget (where $5 million was directed towards spending on families), Michael Timmons from the “The Daily Blog”19 writes “The true nature of this government has been on show in recent weeks. We have seen consistent evidence of a government ruling for the economic elite with little or no regard for the broader population. The actions of this government speak to an arrogance and commensurate sense of entitlement. This is shared with our own economic elite and replicated across the western world through the tentacles of neo-liberalism – a failed economic experiment that holds on desperately through the continued corruption of political life and the imposed consent of the masses while entrenching inequality.” Timmins writes that he believes New Zealanders live in a hegemonic society. He says, “For decades we had a social welfare system – although not perfect – that provided a safety net driven by compassion for our fellow members of society. The language of the neo-liberals, however, removed any references to “compassion” or “fairness”, while instead using the mantra of “dependence”, leading to social exclusion and blame of those in need of assistance.” He goes on to describe (in his words) the ignorance of privilege by neo-liberals and the outcomes of their social policies: “…the blame directed at the poorest is used to mask policies aimed at providing for the wealthy. More cynically, this strategy of blame creates a wedge between the working poor and those receiving assistance. Beneficiaries are blamed for the lack of money for the working poor when in truth it has been siphoned off to the wealthy. This is evident in the concentration of wealth in the top 10% as we tilt towards an oligarchy. Collateral damage in this deliberate exclusion? The children: now with 285,000 in poverty. In New Zealand.”
A Liberal’s View on Child Poverty
In stark contrast, blogger and liberal Lindsay Mitchell writing on Welfare Reform writes “two thirds of the child poverty problem relates to DPB reliance and she estimates that 60,000 children belong in welfare families born to teenagers. She criticizes reports from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)20 focusing on human rights rather than individual responsibility. She writes, “Poor, uneducated girls have less to lose when choosing or failing to avoid premature parenthood. A benefit will pay equal to or more than working full time at the minimum wage. Yet the major recommendation advanced by CPAG is to increase benefits. Given the above set of circumstances, it isn’t difficult to anticipate what raising benefits may do. Increase the number of children on benefits.”21 Mitchell does not conclude the article with recommendations for focusing on prevention of teenage pregnancies, but to point out the responsibility for a child in poverty lying with the mothers themselves and a welfare system that does not discourage teen pregnancy.
A Conservative’s View on Child Poverty
Bob McCoskrie leader of the Conservative Not-for-Profit Organization “Family First” writes “In New Zealand, the married two-parent family is increasingly sidelined while the divorce rate skyrockets. More children are growing up without their dads and more solo mums are struggling to make ends meet. There is rising drug and alcohol abuse and violence in the community. Young girls are being forced into prostitution and some are having abortions behind their parents’ back. Standards in the media and advertising are getting worse and political correctness is strangling free speech. All while people demand more rights without taking responsibility.”22 Their social policies centre around upholding traditional views of marriage and family and that the breakdown of these insitutions results in issues such as child poverty. Whilst not a political party, the organization promotes traditional values and believes that Government should leave childcare choices (and favourably support the option of spending more time with children), sex education and the right to decide how they discipline their children to parents. On the one hand they would like to see a right of appeal towards CYFS intervention, on the other hand they are calling for tougher and harsher penalties in terms of child abuse. In other words a reduced role of Government in terms of what they believe to be the role and responsibility of the parent and a return to traditional “tried and tested norms” in terms of marriage and family.
Conservative National MP Paula Bennett (Minister of Social Development) in commenting about welfare changes made to Government said that the legislation “changed the passive approach of welfare to a more work-focused system” – in other words, the focus on practical solutions that promote responsibility.23 A tougher, tighter system where benefits were passed to a youth centre rather than directly to the parent and women on the “widow’s benefit” or “women alone” benefit would also face tougher work tests. While the Opposition might describe this as punitive (I certainly do), this is an example of the Conservative social policy of duty to help but not to assist that person to achieve equal status or equal outcomes but to be assisted to take responsibility for their own circumstances, with tougher approaches to welfare in order to motivate those people to remain on a benefit for as short a time as possible.
Back to Social Justice
I find it hard to believe that any liberal who believes wholeheartedly in meritocracy and a limited Government could have understood real suffering and the odds that can be stacked against a child – otherwise, wouldn’t they have more empathy for those that do? It surely is a lack of understanding of the impact of a child’s environment. Those in helping professions will understand the impact physical, sexual or psychological abuse has on a child whether it is experienced or witnessed. They will understand the impact of broken attachment between a primary caregiver and a child. They will understand the impact of addictions (eg. alcoholism, gambling, drug addictions). They will understand the effects of poverty on a child. They will understand the effects and genetic influences of mental illness on a child. Research clearly shows these children are more likely to have learning difficulties, poor concentration in school and therefore poor educational outcomes which has a follow-on effect if we are to look at skills, abilities, job opportunities and financial reward. These children are more likely to experience addictions themselves or to experience mental illness or to choose an abusive relationship as an adult. These children are more likely to get in trouble with the law, to be imprisoned. These children are more likely to commit suicide. In terms of cause – the experiences of this child becomes hard-wired into his/her brain. Once those brain pathways are formed, they are extremely difficult to shift without major intervention.
What is the difference between one child who overcomes adversity and fights for a better life and the child that sinks under the weight of what is working against him/her, becoming another statistic? Studies tell us, two very small (seemingly inconsequential) things:
one positive person in that child’s life – this could be a teacher, a coach or a family member that is a positive person in his/her life that builds self-esteem and offers a sense of safety (the kind of security where he/she can relax and feel good about being him/herself)
that child’s personality – how sensitive he/she is
Neither of those factors nor the conditions of that child’s life is something that a child has power over.
Why Should The Outcome of a Child’s Life Be Determined by the Environment That Child Is Born/Raised?
It is my view that every child is equal and that if one child is disadvantaged by his/her environment during his/her development then opportunities should be offered to put that right as early as possible (but as late as adulthood)
It is my view that the (current) Government’s way of giving with one hand and punishing with the other is most certainly punitive – very much acting like the “Critical Parent”: “I will give you this morsel as a token towards your significant need, but you should feel utterly ashamed for having that need.”
But What About Responsibility?
Anyone who has worked in a helping profession will know that pure socialist ideologies do not work. There is a point at which the helping relationship becomes an empowering partnership that does not foster dependence but assists the growth of that person’s confidence and strength. This is an essential component for change. On the one hand, there is the recognition that this person (likely) has a background of issues working against them and their ability to change. On the other hand, there is also the recognition that at some point this person has to take responsibility as an adult and be willing and committed to change. There is tension between these two truths and it is a difficult balance with which those in the helping profession wrestle with.
I’m not an alcoholic, but I like the philosophy by which Alcoholics Anonymous is built. These are some of the principles (as I understand them):
We’re no better than you are – we have all suffered the same issues as you and we’ve all made the same mistakes – there is no shame here, we are of equal value
Sure, acknowledge the pain and hurt that’s in your life, you have to deal with that – better to talk about it and express it that way than run from it with all that drink and hurt the people around you – but also take responsibility for your actions and your mistakes you’ve made because you’ve carried that hurt inside for so long and chosen to deal with it this way. It’s up to you to do something about it now you’re an adult.
Change is hard so we do it together in the context of community and help one another through it
The Value of Community
I believe that we as humans are social creatures. We are born into families for a reason. We’re not made to live in isolation. We’re not made to overcome adversity on our own. When isolation occurs for whatever reason, that person’s resilience is diminished. The outcome of the breakdown in families and communities is isolation and social adversity.
In my view child poverty – both globally and nationally for New Zealand – is an outrage. It is a reflection of our own greed and self-interest. It is immoral. The idea of “every man for himself!” creates a society that is so utterly selfish and depraved. But I think we can change that if we choose to care, and we choose to learn what it might be like to walk in another person’s shoes. It is my view that we must respond to child poverty and other social issues as a community and that we look to solutions that build and strengthen our communities rather than isolate us further into individualism.
To the member in our community who is struggling with adversity, we could choose to say:
We’ve had our own struggles too
If I experienced what you’d experienced, chances are I’d be just the same
You’re a valuable part of our community and we care about your kids and your family too, so how about we help you with what you’re experiencing and work this out together?
If you haven’t seen the documentary “Inside Child Poverty” I can’t find a link but here’s a documentary called “Mind the Gap” and below that a link where you can read Bruce’s comments on Child Poverty:
1National Association of Social Workers (2014). Social Justice. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.naswdc.org/pressroom/features/issue/peace.asp. [Last Accessed 23/05/2014].
2Chris Livesey (2014). Family Life – Social Policy. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sociology.org.uk/fpolicy.pdf. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
3Ministry of Social Development (2014). Social Policy. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/by-subject/social-policy.html. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
4Chris White (2014). Beyond Medicare – Towards Wellness. [ONLINE] Available at: http://chriswhiteonline.org/2014/05/beyond-medicare-towards-wellness/. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
5United Nations (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/history.shtml. [Last Accessed 23/05/2014].
10 Giddens, 1998, P37, sited in Heywood, A, (2002). ‘Political Ideologies’. In:(ed), Politics. 2nd ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave.
11APNZ (2013). Welfare Reforms Affecting Children – CPAG. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11144248. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
12Isaac Davidson (2012). Welfare Reform Bill Passed Into Law. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10820783. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
13 Paul Holmes (2012). Cycle needs to be broken: bit by bit. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz-government/news/article.cfm?c_id=144&objectid=10805344. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
14Kate Shuttleworth (2012). Bennett preaches ‘tough love’ to youth on benefit. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10812818. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
15Claire Trevett (2012). Beneficiary birth control ‘common sense’ – Key. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10804304. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
163 News (2012). OECD: One in five Kiwi kids live in poverty. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.3news.co.nz/OECD-One-in-five-Kiwi-kids-lives-in-poverty/tabid/423/articleID/250874/Default.aspx. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].
17Bryan Bruce (2014). Inside Child Poverty. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/InsideChildPoverty. [Last Accessed 17/05/2014].