Lashing out

Sand BabyThere have been a few awful cases of violence and bloody murder in our news lately. One a miscarriage of justice, another miscarriage of justice in the opposite direction and one unfathomably brutal case. Awful stuff. It got me thinking of the remarkably high instance of domestic violence in New Zealand. In fact we have one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world. Not many people know that.

The only countries with a worse track record are the sort of places you would expect and Peru. I’m not sure what they are up to in Peru, plenty of unhappy relationships anyway.

Almost every town in New Zealand has a large billboard on the outskirts saying how Domestic Violence is not OK. How has it come to be that we need these banners in New Zealand? I don’t think we specifically breed boys given to hitting girls in New Zealand, rather we brew them.

In New Zealand we have a terribly macho culture. Our national sport involves our national heroes doing a menacing warrior dance before every match. Manliness is measured in physical toughness rather than emotional intelligence.

It’s hard to explain but you don’t need to spend too much time in New Zealand to see the overtly masculine underpinnings in almost everything. The advertising imagery, the rugby, farming, vehicles, driving style, television, beer and so on. Outside the nicer parts of central Auckland, a man having a glass of white wine in public will be thought of, and remarked upon, by ‘real blokes’ in the vicinity as being at best, effeminate, to put it politely.

A young boy outside the more progressive parts of Auckland and Wellington grows up with his potential manliness being measured by his ability to emulate the toughest men in world sport. Rugby or rugby league players, ultimate fighting champions, boxers. Even our most revered cricket player, Brendon McCullum, is so regarded for his aggressive, swashbuckling, combative batting style.

The worst example of poor role modeling came from one of the high profile Rugby League players who was punched unconscious from behind in a major cup final match, then punched again as he lay on the ground. It was an appalling act of savagery, which should have resulted in a prison sentence for the assailant. But our hero shrugged it off publicly as no big deal. This sends a dreadful message to the young people of New Zealand as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. So we have a population of young boys who grow up understanding even if subconsciously that aggressive behaviour is to be applauded and encouraged.

Let’s throw some modern confusion into the mix. We grew up understanding that you must never hit girls no matter what. Girls were precious, special, girly delicate creatures who were less strong than men and well, girls. One of the fundamental messages to young boys used to be that you must never hit a girl. I doubt that it still is, the numbers suggest it is not. Now we have mighty girls, playing rugby, joining the army, working alongside men, getting paid as much and wearing the pants as it were. We are told that girls are equal and we must not give them special treatment or make any allowances, as that’s sexist. This message is starting very young. I wonder quite how the message that despite all this equality you still can’t hit girls is getting diluted. It must be hard to a mind less formed or broad enough to see a bigger picture.

Hopefully the message that it’s not just girls, you shouldn’t hit anyone is being reinforced. It may be by the parents but it certainly is not being reinforced by society, or television, or sport, or anyone if our national statistics are to be believed.

I’m glad I’m not a parent. How does one reinforce what is important in the face of the onslaught of available conflicting information about everything. You want your child to study and do well at school, but if they aren’t sport minded, they’ll be a geek and probably get bullied. Go down the sports route and you limit their options if they aren’t exceptional at it. Simplistic and I’m sure plenty of kids do fine at the good schools with a broad and comprehensive syllabus with good teachers and coaches. Then the children go home.

Some people expect the schools to bring up their kids properly; they abdicate responsibility for learning and habit forming when the children start school. The schools job is education, not parenting. So many parents shouldn’t have children at all because they aren’t cut out for taking any sort of responsibility for the life they’ve created. Sadly you can’t make potential parents get some sort of license first. Few things in the world are worse than terrible parents because they ruin the lives of others.

Even my own parents were terrible parents. They shouldn’t have had children, as they took no responsibility for the children they had. My two brothers and myself. I only figured this out recently but it’s worth detailing some of the story to give an example of what unintentional terrible parenting by people who should never have had children can look like.

From when we were born, Dad was always working, hard; he was the hardest working man in the history of the world. He was busy making a better future for his family and trying to realize his dream of owning his own land. This meant that we hardly ever saw him. He was mad keen on sport and desperate for we three boys to do well at rugby in particular but I can only remember a very small handful of games he ever came to watch or take us to as children. I’m talking less than 10 games in total across three boys in our entire education from age 5-17. Because he was always working.

Mum didn’t come to the rugby either, I’m not sure what she was doing, she worked during the week, but not at the weekend. But somehow, someone else was always asked to take us to the rugby, or cricket. I guess she was gardening, or making preserves or something. Something more important that watching her boys playing rugby, or cricket on a Saturday morning.

It’s not just about sport though of course. My younger brother was in tears recently as he blamed our mother for her lack of influence in our education. My mother was a school teacher by training yet did nothing to ensure we did well at school. I was disengaged from High School due to horrendous bullying. So my parents removed me from the otherwise very good school I attended and sent me to another very average school, not due to the bullying, but because I wasn’t doing well enough at the school to warrant the expense.

I wasn’t one for homework. Never picked up a pen to do any homework the entire time I was at High School. My mother or father never asked, nor checked, nor expressed any interest at all. But were very quick to chastise when my report cards were poor. There was no questioning why, just criticism. It never occurred to me at the time that this was an example of dreadful parenting. It’s just how things were.

I think the best example of someone who has no business being in charge of children though, is this. Imagine this if you are a parent. One of my mother’s favourite ‘family stories’ is when we lost my younger brother.

I want to tell you about it. I was 6 years old, my older brother was 8. We lived in a very remote wild part of New Zealand, on a peninsula, 2 hours from the nearest small town. We went to play in the hay barn. We had to walk through a paddock full of recently calved cows and were advised not to walk between the cows and the calves, as the cow would attack us. We made our way about 1 kilometre at least to a hay barn to play, at ages 6 and 8.

We were good at walking though, before we moved to Mahia Peninsula, when I started school, my brother and I had to walk about 2 kilometres on a remote country road each day to catch the school bus. I had no idea at the time why our mother, who was at home, never drove us there, or picked us up after school.

After several hours we returned home in what is described in the story as a howling gale, it was, I remember it. Our mother asked us if our younger brother was with us. He would have been about 15 months old. Remember, we were 6 and 8 and had been gone for hours in appalling weather. We informed Mum that our brother wasn’t with us. Then the search began, in the ‘howling gale’.

We found him eventually, too far from the house for a 15 month old baby to be and we only found him by accident. He was upset over a lost shoe, but amazingly he was otherwise fine. What the hell was she doing? Why was my 15-month-old brother unsupervised for hours in the middle of a windstorm in the middle of nowhere? On what planet is it ok for a 15-month-old baby to be allowed to wander 1000 metres through the foul weather to play in a barn with a 6 and an 8 year old? Why was she not looking for him moments after he had left her sight rather than hours later?

She tells this story with much laughter over several glasses of wine, without displaying a hint of understanding it was her shocking negligence that could have easily cost her children’s lives.

My father died years ago, he was a terrible parent but I loved my father. He worked his fingers to the bone to make a better life for us. My mother is an alcoholic, has been for years and I expect she was when we were born. I can’t think of any other reason for the terrible neglect and disinterest or lack of positive influence in her children’s lives.

I can’t imagine why else she wouldn’t have wanted to see her children in action on sports fields or do well at school. I guess taking part in the activity at weekends would have impinged in her drinking time. Perhaps it was because when we were all out, she could drink unobserved.

But it was also a symptom of the era. Young women taken from their families to the middle of nowhere to be farmer’s wives. Raised to be mothers but ill equipped to deal with the lifestyle and without local support given the remoteness of where they lived.

We were lucky because we were all bright and through chance, circumstance, a bit of imagination and good fortune made various lives for ourselves but are each quite dysfunctional in our own way.

Many poorly parented children aren’t so lucky because they don’t get the break, or see the window of opportunity best suited to their skills. They are confused by how to behave and make terrible decisions, and lash out at the nearest weakest target. Mostly the girl in their life, because they didn’t know any better.

Know better; learn to know better, teach your boys to know better. It’s never ok to lash out, you should know this, not need a billboard to remind you.

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Taking pictures

I know I usually string words together for the sake of amusement, entertainment, information or occasionally even inspiration, but I haven’t been feeling particularly wordy lately. What I have been doing a lot though is taking photographs of the stuff all around me. I carry my camera everywhere I go and if the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ has any basis in reality then here are the equivalent of about 40,000 words. These are images of Central New Zealand, nowhere in particular. Mostly Rangitikei and Northern Manawatu. Everyone knows and has seen the big tourism images of all the famous places in New Zealand. There are the other places, the places most people don’t spend too much time photographing. But it’s a beautiful place. Here, I’ll show you.

See, it’s nice here.

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Driving south in the North Island

FullSizeRender-3I’ll get straight to the point for once. I said once upon a time that only two towns in New Zealand were worth making a special trip for. Russell and Queenstown. I’d like to revise that outdated advice. Some New Zealand towns have been giving themselves a bit of a makeover since we realised people from other counties might like to buy things other than a pie, an ice-cream and some rural supplies when they visit a township. I’m going to revisit some of the New Zealand towns I have had the good, or less good fortune to pass through since I returned home from England. This isn’t a detailed look at every town in New Zealand. I’m not writing a travel book, just a blog post, so I’m going to limit my visit and brief descriptions to the towns along New Zealand’s main road. State Highway One in the North Island.

Firstly though, there is something that has been troubling me since I got home and that is the pretty startling experience that first time or even regular visitors to New Zealand have to endure when they arrive here. Leaving Auckland and getting your holiday underway. People who come here by and large spend a decent chunk of that visit on the road. New Zealand is a road trip. Getting out of Auckland is confusing and unpleasant at best and a nightmare at worst.

When you leave the airport, if you wish to head north first, you turn left. The first signs you encounter saying ‘North’ and therefore indicating your best northward route are pointing you at the wrong road to take if you wish to head North. They would be more accurate if they said ‘Western Suburbs’. There is no obvious access to any practical route North in that direction despite what the ‘North’ sign says. I gather there is a road currently (slowly) being built which will enable people to actually head North from the airport. But it’s not there yet even though the signs have been for years. They are misleading at best.

If you ignore the incorrect signage and follow the main suburban route eventually arriving at the Epsom on-ramp to the Southern Motorway, heading north. You will find yourself at the most poorly designed motorway on and off-ramp combination in all the world. There is heavy traffic wishing to leave the Motorway for the central city just 100 metres north of where you are trying to join it.

When you successfully find yourself on the Southern Motorway, heading North, the next set of traffic lights are about 65 kilometres distant, at Warkworth. Here you will find the most poorly designed traffic intersection in all the world. If you are lucky, you didn’t sit in a queue of traffic up to 25 kilometres long to arrive at it. That actually happens in the Summer holidays. You might like to visit Warkworth while you are here. Stock up on supplies for your northern road trip. Warkworth is a pretty town with a nice river and worth a short wander to stretch your legs after your long flight and longer that you expected journey out of Auckland. I’m not going to talk about the places to the North. I’m going to focus on the New Zealand towns south of Auckland. The North should have a post of its own. I’ll get around to it. The North of New Zealand is home to our most beautiful coastline. A place of extraordinary natural beauty of the seaside variety. Like I said, I’ll get around to writing about it you but can see some images of it here though. I took these pictures. New Zealand coastal awesomeness

If you are heading South, you turn right when you leave the airport. Where you will drive along a carriageway through industrial South Auckland all the way to the Southern Motorway. The first town you come to when you leave Auckland and head down State Highway One instead of making for the Coromandel Peninsula, is Huntly. Don’t judge New Zealand by your first impression of the first town you encounter. Huntly is on the banks of the Waikato River and has a large power station on the opposite side of the river from the main road. Huntly also has a large ugly railway siding beside the road. Some unattractive run-down buildings in the centre and a small industrial estate on the south side of the town. Huntly must be New Zealand’s most unsightly settlement. New Zealand gets better after this, but not for a while. You have to get south of Hamilton to get to the good stuff.

Hamilton is one of New Zealand’s largest cities but there is no good reason to stop here. Thankfully there are a number of by-passes to choose. Choose one of them and use it.

I don’t need to talk about the Coromandel Peninsula as all the guide books discuss it at length. The Coromandel is a very beautiful place to visit.

When you’ve succeeded in avoiding Hamilton, you will most likely arrive at Cambridge unless you gave Hamilton the widest possible berth. Cambridge is very nice, leafy and expensive looking, You wonder what all the obviously rich people who live around here in huge houses do for a living. I believe they do things with horses and expensive cows.

Beyond Cambridge is a town apparently made out of Corrugated Iron. It’s called Tirau and I don’t think they make corrugated iron here but they very clearly love the stuff. They also have shops along the small main street that look to be worth having a poke about in. Expect things to be priced for the tourism market. New Zealand retailers like everyone else in the world believe tourists are easily pleased and happy to pay over the odds for poor quality useless things, mostly made in China, to remind them of their holiday. We also have the most excellent ‘antique’ shops. Really cool stuff from not all that long ago. I think ‘Retro’ shops would be a better description. They are all full of iconic items from our own childhood rather than expensive pretty things from Europe or other countries colonial furniture.

There are of course small settlements off to the left and right of the main highway, or road, to give it a more accurate description through the North Island, but they are mostly functional places full of farm machinery and rural supplies.

South of Tirau is Putaruru, which is unremarkable, then Tokoroa which exists for lumberjacks to buy whatever lumberjacks buy. You can tell it’s a timber town as there is a very large wooden sculpture of a man wielding a chainsaw beside the main street. Tokoroa is a biggish town on the edge of the Kaingaroa Forest, the largest planted forest in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost entirely pine trees. A little known fact about New Zealand is that trees grow faster here than anywhere else in the world.

After Tokoroa you drive through a small section of the giant pine forest until you get to Taupo. There is a bypass where you can avoid Taupo and head south or towards Hawkes Bay where they grow fruit and wine. It’s good to go into and through Taupo though as you’ll be ready for a stop again. Taupo is sometimes called ‘The Queenstown of the North Island’. I’m not sure who by, but I’m guessing it’s by the Taupo tourism board because Taupo is not the Queenstown of the North Island. Not even close. Taupo is a town made up almost entirely of motels along the side of the lake. Lake Taupo is actually a giant volcanic crater. One of the very few super volcanoes in the world. 2 of the 3 most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in the last 600,000 years were right here in this crater. You’ll see the evidence in all the geothermal steam about the place. This is where the world as we know it could end at any time. Mind how you go.

Upon leaving Taupo, you drive the very scenic route alongside the Lake for half an hour or so and head up onto the Volcanic Plateau. Before you do that you pass by Turangi, which you visit if you like trout fishing as that’s what Turangi is for.

Ruapehu 26.01.15The Volcanic Plateau, where you drive the incorrectly named ‘desert road’. This is a tremendously atmospheric piece of alpine wilderness in the Central North Island rather than a desert. If you are lucky and the skies are clear you will get a great view of the three volcanoes which live here. Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. They are all active.

At the end of the desert road is Waioru which is predominantly a bleak place beside an army camp, The amazing New Zealand Army museum is here and is one of the best museums in the country and one of the best army museums in the world. Definitely worth a look so you can be amazed at how such a small country with a tiny population can have such a completely epic military history.

Next stop is Taihape which for generations has been the butt of many kiwi jokes about gumboots and rural middle New Zealand. They have fully embraced their gumboot in Taihape and have installed a large one made out of corrugated iron beside the road. Taihape is full of character but small and behind you quickly as you continue south.

From here you pass through the extraordinary Rangitikei region with one of the most beautiful river valleys you’ll find anywhere. High white cliffs and big views across the jagged landscape from the beside the road. You’ll come down a big hill and see an aeroplane made into a café. An old DC3 in Mangaweka. Mangaweka is a village which serves the adventurous tourists who want to spend some time upside down in the Rangitikei River Rapids.

Hunterville is the next town/village and has the distinction of being the Huntaway Capital of the world. The Huntaway being the most iconic New Zealand sheep dog. No, not the ‘heading’ or eye dog. The big noisy one is the Huntaway.

Hunterville is also home to New Zealand’s largest General Store. This will surprise you when you go inside, it seems quite small. But you can buy everything here, from ice-creams to livestock, not pets, livestock. Sheep and cows I don’t think they carry them in stock though, you have to order them in specially. Hunterville also has a number of interesting shops and café’s. It’s a good place for a pit-stop on your road trip.

Refueled and fed you’ll get to Bulls next. Bulls is where the road turns left to continue south or right to head for Wanganui and Taranaki. For the record I think Wanganui is New Zealand’s prettiest city.

Bulls have put some clever marketing puns on all the significant buildings. Based around the word bull. I’ll let you see that for yourself. It’s unbelieve-a-bull

Once you’ve departed Bulls, crossed the river, turned right at Sanson which also has some roadside shops worth pottering about in, you start down the most boring stretch of road in New Zealand. The run from Sanson to Foxton and beyond. This is where the drive becomes a chore rather than an adventure. All the way from Foxton to the far end of the Kapiti Coast is where I lose the will to live I’m afraid. Boring towns, often heavy traffic, nothing to see here, just keep moving along please.

For me the road journey has now lost it’s joy, albeit briefly, and I don’t recapture it until I pass the old Paekakariki rail station. From here, there is much good scenery in places and the arrival view into Wellington when you round the corner at the bottom of the Ngauranga Gorge is truly magical on a clear day.

Wellington is a very scenic little city. Spend a couple of days here before catching your ferry to the South Island. The South Island is a very different world to the North Island. Did you know the two islands of New Zealand were formed by completely different geological forces? Mountain Formation in the South Island and Volcanism in the North Island. All New Zealand’s geothermal landscapes and Volcanoes are in the North Island. There are no volcanoes in the South Island.

This has been a summary of just a part of a single road. but the one most people moving down New Zealand use. There are many other roads to explore. Like I said before, New Zealand is a road trip. Enjoy your trip. Sorry about the unusually long post, I was on a roll.

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A River runs through it

Rangitikei River Valley

Rangitikei River Valley

This is a bit of a travel post. I’m going to talk about a place plenty of people on their New Zealand holidays travel through, but not many travel to. I’d venture that most New Zealanders would struggle to point the region out on a map. So this can serve as a mini travel guide for Kiwi’s as well as those from far away who come to visit.

When people plan a trip to New Zealand, if they know anything at all about their destination, they’ll be factoring in such things as bubbling mud, Queenstown, Hobbits and Lord of the Rings destinations, some Mountains and perhaps the Bay of Islands. The visitor may be a wine fan, or keen on a fresh air and wide open spaces, clean, green, jump off a high thing, adventure in the outdoors where nothing nasty will bite you sort of holiday. Or maybe they just want to go to a beach, or ski, or see all the New Zealandness from a campervan on a road trip.

New Zealand offers all of it in spades, we all know that. Everybody knows where all the good touristy stuff is and the visitor drives keenly from one tourist attraction to the next. Wondering where everybody is and why there are so many Police cars parked on the side of the road.

Whether you are a visitor to New Zealand or a New Zealander on the move, you travel through New Zealand. The bit of New Zealand in the middle is called ‘The Heartland’. When I say the middle, I mean more in the way of a vibe than a place. The Heartland is middle New Zealand, where the New Zealanders work and live. Making sheep into roast lamb and cows into butter and steak. Growing wine and trees, being inventive or playing sport. The bit of ‘The Heartland’ I’m going to talk about is ‘The Rangitikei’. Like I said, most kiwis can’t point to it on a map.

The Rangitikei is a region, which starts at Taihape in the North and ends in Bulls in the South. It only has 5 towns. Small towns at that. Taihape as I mentioned, Mangaweka, Hunterville, Bulls and Marton which describes itself as the hub of the Rangitikei, although Marton’s best days were about 50 years ago. The glory days hinted at by the fact that two of the best schools in the country are in Marton for no currently apparent reason. This is old sheep money country though. The small towns are in slow decline as they are everywhere but the money is still here in the district. Great iconic Sheep stations are in the nearby hinterland and the families who own them still live in the area.

Valley2 10.07.14I’m not going to talk about the towns; these would be villages in any other country. They are small and ‘villagy’ but have extraordinarily interesting and diverse shops. I’m going to talk about the region, The Rangitikei. New Zealand’s main road, State Highway One runs right through the middle of the Rangitikei once you leave Taihape if you are heading south. The first thing you’ll notice is the beautiful river valley which runs alongside the road for the next half an hour or so on your journey towards Hunterville. The great high Papa (clay, pronounced paahpa) cliffs carve through the landscape in an incredibly dramatic fashion. High railway viaducts criss-cross this magnificent river valley as the New Zealand main trunk railway line also passes through this region, following the river for a while.

The Rangitikei River itself is what we call a meandering or braided river. Changing course frequently as the river rises and falls according to the rainfall in the distant mountains. This was the setting for some of the Anduin River scenes in Lord of the Rings and is popular with white water rafters and canoeists. The Rangitikei River alternates between slow gentle flow and wild rapids. All along the river are low accessible banks to camp on and high cliffs to marvel at. You can also fish or swim in it.

The mountains form the marvellous backdrop to this most scenic of river landscapes. You can see Mt Ruapehu from time to time from a remarkable distance as you drive north. On a clear day you can spot the mountain from just north of Bulls, about 150 kilometres distant. If you look in the right place, you’ll catch the odd glimpse of it along your way. To the East are the Ruahine Ranges, snow capped throughout the winter. If you turn off the main road and drive towards the Ruahine’s you’ll eventually find yourself on one of the many gravel roads which end at the edge of this wilderness, you can simply walk in to the bush, cross the ranges on foot and end up in Hawkes Bay if you are feeling adventurous.

The Rangitikei is the bit between the arable plains of the Manawatu and the alpine desolation of the Central Plateau. It’s not very big, in the big scheme of things, but the diversity of the landscape is extraordinary, there is nowhere in New Zealand quite like it. There’s not really anywhere of note to stop in the Rangitkei. There are fairly limited hotel or motel and no actual resort facilities in the region. There are a handful of spectacular unique or ’boutique’ lodges and farm stays though. There is even a proper shooting lodge or two and a couple of amazing Golf courses and camping sites. But there is no great world famous tourist attraction to bring the busloads of foreign tourists. Which is a good thing.

But there is an otherworldly attraction all of it’s own to the Rangitikei. The deep sheer sided river valleys and their white cliffs. The steep winding roads to nowhere in particular. The huge vistas across the Rangitikei river valley to the mountains in the distance. The quirky shops in the tiny towns. All of it is worth spending some time exploring, as that’s what you do here. You potter about, follow your nose, drive down a dead end road to the edge of the mountains or the banks of the river. Or walk down to the White Cliffs Boulders.

The White Cliffs Boulders would have to be the least known attraction in New Zealand. They are in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a farm track, which is several kilometres down a gravel road in the middle of the Rangitikei. There are few signs to them and even less publicity of their existence. Yet they are one of the most remarkable geological formations you are ever likely to encounter. An ethereal place of natural wonder in the middle of a clump of native bush beside a bend in a remote river. It looks like a scene from one of the Hobbit films. A collection of smooth symmetrical boulders and rocks scattered around the forest with trees growing on, in and over them. All in a mossy green. There is no sound but that of running water and bird song. Meanwhile you are standing in what looks like a film set or alien landscape.

Whitecliff Boulders14

Mt Ruapehu from Stormy Point

Mt Ruapehu from Stormy Point

The Rangitikei is where people travel through, rather than travel too in most cases. People stop there but few go there. They should. It’s not just about the river. Stop, stand and look across the Rangitikei. This is one of the world’s great-unremarked landscapes. One of the best bits of New Zealand. People should spend more time looking at it.

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2014. A summary

IMG_0224It’s the week before Christmas and all through the house…etc etc. It’s a funny Christmas, this one. I don’t think I’ve ever felt less Christmassy. I think it’s the dramatically disrupted year I’ve had personally. I won’t bore you with that. I’ve also written much less on here this year than previously. I’ve been busy doing stuff outside and life kept getting in the way. I got a bit of flak for not writing enough. Apparently people like this nonsense and I like to make people happy, so here I am, again.

I thought a quick summary of the year might be in order. I like to sum things up and it gives me the chance to say Merry Christmas. Even if I’m not feeling very Christmassy.

So what did we learn this year, globally? We found out that the Americans find Ebola to be the most terrifying thing ever despite it posing less risk to the general population than their own policemen. Certainly if you are black it would seem. Ebola kills people because of crappy sanitation conditions and tribal lifestyle choices rather than stalking Americans in the street, but our mates in the land of the free seem to be a lot more easily spooked than they used to be.

We also found out that if you wave an Islamic flag during a hold-up, the fear quotient increases exponentially. We are globally terrified of the terrorists beyond their wildest expectations. Yet we are still at greater risk of being struck by lightning than being executed on the internet by the disaffected youth of Mesopotamia, or British visitors to the region for that matter.

A key health and safety lesson was also evidenced in 2014. Don’t screw holes in your ski helmet to attach a camera to your head. Michael Schumacher found this out the hard way and what should have been a minor tumble became most likely the last thing he will ever remember. A tragic end to the fully functioning life of one of the greatest ever racing drivers, who survived a career at 200 miles per hour but lost his future for the sake of a wanting to capture a moving image in the snow.

The hashtag came into its own this year when social media activism came to life in a big way. Twitter was awash with the #bringbackourgirls hashtag when Boko Haram in Nigeria took a couple of hundred girl’s hostage from a Christian school. Boko Haram regularly murder, kidnap and enslave thousands of Nigerians but that’s not news it seems.

There are a couple of issues here though. The campaign has gone; the next trendy bandwagon has come and gone. The girls aren’t home and too few of the people busily tweeting #bringbackourgirls would be able to identify Nigeria on a map. Nor do they seem to care enough to tweet their continuing outrage as Boko Haram go about their daily campaign of murdering or enslaving anyone they encounter who might not be sufficiently enthusiastic in their embrace of fundamentalist Islam. The hashtag is the modern representation of a topic of conversation. It’s not going to change the world, not even if you tweet it a number of times a day about things you can’t be bothered looking up the big picture on.

I flew Malaysian Airlines once. It’s a good airline and they’ve been spectacularly unlucky. If they lose a third plane though I’ll start to wonder if they are doing it on purpose. We learned this year that too many people will attach a conspiracy theory to anything out of the ordinary.

We had the curious spectacle in New Zealand of much media hype over the release of a book. That’s unremarkable in itself but it was the content of the book which generated so much debate. The book was all about how politicians behave in an underhand manner to hamper the opposition parties. I’m not sure how this was seen as such big news or why anyone thought that wasn’t something politicians did on a daily basis. I can only assume the author of the book had numerous friends in the news outlets who wished to help him with sales. The book was based on the contents of hacked emails. Don’t get me started.

Speaking of breaking news about something we all assumed happens all the time, the release of the CIA report about torturing detainees. The only shocking thing about this report, and the reporting of the report was that anyone thought the CIA weren’t torturing terror suspects.

The Germans won the Soccer World Cup in Brazil. The Brazilians were dire and the Dutch might have won it if they weren’t so keen on having a lie down so often in the middle of a game. Seriously, soccerists, just back yourself to win the ball instead of a penalty. How about playing the game instead of the playing the victim of an imaginary infringement?

The All Blacks continue to be the best rugby team in the world and are the most successful sports team ever in any sport. Just in time for another Rugby World Cup to come around and all the sports pundits to question if they peaked too early. I don’t think so, but the Irish will be backing themselves to get to the business end next year. Could be worth a flutter but don’t bet the house on it. Back them to come second. The All Blacks will win it. There I’ve said it and most likely jinxed them. I’ll expect the usual ridicule in the unlikely event that I’m mistaken.

Speaking of sport, there was the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games apparently. I didn’t see any of either of them. They must have been on in the middle of the night. Let’s face it though, nobody really cares about the Commonwealth Games anymore, they should be called the Empire games as it’s just for the colonies and Great Britain. I can’t see the point of it among the endless world championships that seem to happen every weekend now.

As for the Winter Olympics. It’s only popular in cold countries. I’ve never seen the attraction of Alpine Sports as they require you to be much colder than you would otherwise choose to be if you wish to participate or watch. Not for me, I prefer to be inside by the fire in the winter, not standing about on a mountain watching people wearing body suits hurtle down it.

I think the most inspiring thing I saw this year came out of the worst atrocity we witnessed. The Pakistani Taliban murdering the school kids and their teachers. An act so heinous even the Afghan Taliban blanched and condemned it. The people of Pakistan poured into the streets to denounce the Taliban at great risk to their personal safety. As we know, the Taliban don’t take criticism well and react with brutal force on a personal level. The Pakistanis know that the Taliban will come to your house and shoot you and your family if you cross them.

The Pakistanis have had enough of this vile bullying organisation and maybe their evil tide has finally turned. As we have seen over millennia in Afghanistan, military might is only marginally effective against a guerrilla force and only by a concerted act of will among the people of Pakistan can the Taliban be denied an operating base or safe haven. They must be shown their actions bring only revulsion and the removal of any support anywhere is the way to render them impotent. The Taliban are a deeply religious bunch, their actions are driven by their desire to impose their will on everybody else. They are bullies, heavily armed religious zealot bullies, but bullies nonetheless and the people of Pakistan look to have had enough of being bullied. More power to them and they deserve our support.

On a brighter and final note. I’m back up in the North of New Zealand, where I feel my home is now. I love this bit of the country and am very pleased to be back. I’ve got an awesome new day job and I achieved a lifelong ambition of seeing and hearing one of the rarest and most elusive of our native birds in the wild this weekend. The Kokako. It was on my bucket list, I ticked at least one thing off. It might seem trivial to some but it was a huge deal for me. I love our native bird species and to see one of the rarest of them in its natural habitat and hear its uniquely haunting call was a spine tingling experienceIMG_0225.

I don’t know what 2015 will bring and I’m not even sure what I hope I’ll achieve. Seems odd to approach a year with no idea what the end of it should look like. I might have to start thinking of a project.

Thanks for sticking with me this year. You reading my stuff means the world to me as it’s why I do this. I’m not someone who would write stuff down for the hell of it. I like to know people read it.

Have an Oarsum Christmas break, or whatever holiday you get at this time of the year, if you get any at all. May your 2015 bring you the things you hope for..

Cheers!

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Our ‘other’ stuff

CalvesLook, it’s me again! I’m like a bus, or something. A British bus, not a New Zealand one. The adage in London is that buses don’t appear at all for a while and then 3 come along at once. I know, hilarious, but surprisingly true all too often.

Much news this morning about some significant development in the UN climate change talks currently taking place in Lima, Peru. That’s the Peru in South America, which requires a significant aeroplane journey for all attending apart from the Peruvian Delegation. It got me thinking about stuff in New Zealand that not many people know about New Zealand. How? You might ask. Stick around, I’ll tell you, when have I ever got straight to the point?

How it got me thinking was our attitude to our own carbon footprints here in clean green New Zealand. I know that doesn’t sound terribly interesting, but wait, there’s more. As I said, It started me on a tangent of thinking about all the things in NZ that not many people know about, like that we as a nation couldn’t care less about our Carbon footprint despite our tourism authority using the tag line 100% Pure New Zealand.

I’m afraid a lot of what I’m going to put here doesn’t paint us in a terribly flattering light, so I’ll throw in some cool stuff about how oarsum we are to counter balance any negativity, because we Kiwi’s aren’t keen on people thinking we are less than amazing as a nation.

We are amazing as a nation but we aren’t perfect, far from it. I’m just going to have a stroll around some of the stuff we don’t talk about much out loud, sort of thing.

Back to our Carbon footprint. Despite being touted globally for our clean air and pristine environment we actually have a government transport policy that penalizes us for driving low carbon vehicles. Amazing I know, but a tiny number of New Zealanders have embraced the clean burning diesel powered cars because they have to pay road user charges designed for heavy transport if they do. So they don’t and run petrol cars instead which have higher carbon emissions than diesel cars. Most Kiwis have no idea what their carbon emissions are from their car and certainly don’t make car-buying decisions based upon how bad for the environment the car’s engine is.

There is no Government policy in New Zealand designed to reduce our vehicle pollution as a nation. By and large the Kiwi’s position is still, ‘the bigger the engine the better’. Fuel economy comes a sorry second to engine power and carbon emissions don’t count for anything.

Speaking of pollution, it’s very expensive and time consuming in New Zealand to recycle anything. You have to pay to have your rubbish collected outside the main centres and recycling costs even more. So you just chuck your recycling in the rubbish as a general rule unless you are a conscientious recycler by choice and don’t mind paying the extra. The Germans would have palpitations if they saw our attitude to recycling.

Did you know we are the world’s largest exporter of dairy goods? We supply almost all the cheese used by McDonalds in South America? We have millions of cows pissing into our watercourses so the South Americans can have a cheeseburger.

Despite the cows best efforts our water is amazing though, most of our lakes are so clear you can see right to the bottom of them, if it wasn’t all dark in the deep bits. We also have 30 more species of endemic (not found in any other country) sea bird than any other country.

We have the heaviest insect, the largest worms and the oldest trees. We also used to have the worlds largest Raptor, the Haast Eagle, and the biggest bird in the world. The Moa. The Moa could stand up to 13 feet tall and weigh 500lbs. The Maori settlers ate them all though, tucked in to the last one about 600 years ago. Good eating, the Moa.

For inexplicable reasons, many women in New Zealand still hold an affection for fashion from the 1980’s. You will see them walking around wearing clothing which wouldn’t look out of place in a Bananarama music video. Baggy pleated cotton trousers and high heels, High waisted stone washed jeans with tummy revealing half length short sleeve jumpers, fluorescent lycra. Pastel colours and often the 1980’s haircut to match all of the above. I’ve checked and there are current fashion magazines from overseas available here but it seems many of our women preferred 1985.

We have terrible television, among the worst in the world, certainly that I’ve seen. The television is peppered with awfully poor quality advertising every 9 minutes and when it’s not advertising, it’s predominantly reality television shows from dawn till dusk, almost invariably about renovating houses, fishing, or what the Australian police do for a living. I assume it’s because a reality television program about New Zealand police officers giving out speeding tickets would get a bit dreary after the first episode. New Zealand’s police officers appear to mostly spend their time issuing speeding tickets. There’s not much else for them to do during the day,

We have an interesting approach to social media here. Twitter in New Zealand is like a giant chat room or gossip in a coffee shop. I’m pretty sure all of the people on twitter in New Zealand follow each other.

When one of the well-known kiwi tweeters was viciously assaulted going to the aid of a stranger being mugged in a supermarket. The Kiwi tweeters started an online campaign that raised nearly $300,000 for her and her family. A Rottweiler attacked another well-known tweeter’s Chihuahua, the kiwi tweeters got the hat going round for her vet bills as well. Seriously, want to get any help with anything in New Zealand, go to twitter, they all know each other.

Speaking of attacks. There is a disturbingly large amount of domestic violence in the lower socio-economic sections of New Zealand Society. Too many testosterone fuelled men, with a warrior ancestry, whose role models are ranked in order of physical toughness. Being a tough bloke is the fundamental message of what defines a man’s self worth running through the psyche of too many New Zealand males. Men who value physical toughness over the ability to articulate their emotions, mocking, or worse, those given to verbal expression of their ideals.

That said, when the shit really does hit the fan and you need the worlds most resourceful, resilient, and hardy blokes around with a combination of physicality, can do, calmness and good humour, you call the New Zealanders, I’m sorry but it’s true. This has been proven time and again in the world’s great conflicts and times of crisis. We are good at this stuff. New Zealand blokes are also happy to have women in charge of things. More so than most other countries.

New Zealanders are terrible drivers, very selfish and thoughtless, oblivious to other road users. Here’s a thing though, did you know that 35% of our roads are unsealed. True Story, just turn off any main road and keep driving for a while. Speaking of roads. The South Island of New Zealand is about the size of England. But there are only 3 roads that cross it. The Haast Pass, Arthur’s Pass and the Lewis Pass. These roads are mostly empty most of the time. It’s fantastic.

Lewis Pass

Lewis Pass

All our roads eventually, sooner or later, go to the most wonderful wide-open spaces available to anyone who wishes to wander around in them. You can sit in solitude on a hill looking at a view the envy of anyone in the world less than an hour from Central Auckland.

We are a small country farther from any other country in the world than any other country in the world. Yes that does make sense. We aren’t all lush forests, snow capped peaks and Hobbits. We have some amazing and disturbing idiosyncrasies. Worth a visit though. It’s still good to be home. I must tell you how that came about one day, and what I do with myself now that I’m here.

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Winner!

I know, I know, there was another post on here for a while, I took it down. Varied reasons, none of which matter all that much. I will be putting more stuff on here soon. Life has taken another change of direction and I will have a bit more spare time on my hands. Speaking of spare time… As I said in my previous post, what I do mostly when I’m not engaged in the day job is try my hand at photography. You’ll hopefully have seen my new photography blog, if not, there’s a link to that at the end of this.

I woke up to this today though. I don’t think I’ve ever won anything I was more excited about, to be fair I had to stop to think what else I had won in my life. 5th form speech prize? Let’s not make light though. I was beyond thrilled that one of my photos was chosen as being ‘student photo of the week’ by Fotoclasses They are based in the USA and in my view are the best photography courses available online . Fotoclasses have world class photographers as tutors and I had taken one of their courses. So for them to choose my photo from all their students around the world is totally amazing and and huge boost as I continue to figure out how my camera works. The detail is as follows, cut and pasted from their site. It’s such a huge honour for me. So I’m sharing it. The appropriate understated ‘kiwi’ism’, would be that I’m stoked.

Student Photo of the Week – Through the Tunnel

Getting off of auto is an important step in becoming a better photographer—but once you pass through that tunnel, there’s still a lot left to master. Here’s how one student used advanced techniques to capture this amazing image, Through The Tunnel.

There’s a sort of epiphany that happens when moving from auto to manual modes—a kind of passing through a dark tunnel and finding light that you never knew was on the other side. Sandy Abbot has been taking pictures for most of his adult life—but everything changed three years ago, when he decided to take a course to learn how to get off auto mode.

Now taking the Advanced Guide to DSLR Photography, Sandy had an idea in mind when he headed out to the rail underpass near Mt. Ruapehu. “I’d driven past the site a few times and on a clear day the mountain looks so awesome,” he said. “The road over this rail underpass is the first place you get a decent look at the mountain when you approach from the south. I thought I’d drive down to the underpass to see if it presented a good picture, as I knew the railway lines headed straight for the mountain when they emerged from it.”

The view was exactly the shot he was after, but certainly not without its own set of challenges—the biggest being to keep the contrast of the mountain despite the darkness of the tunnel. Using single point autofocus, he set the focus and exposure at different parts of the tunnel opening until he found a spot that captured what he was looking for. Through The Tunnel was submitted without any editing.

Tutor Eric Fletcher had a lot to say about the image—but the key is the fact that the train tracks are still visible even in the darkness of the tunnel. “I really like that the reflection on the tracks carries all the way into the darkness and to the bottom of the frame,” he said. “If the tracks fell into blackness with the rest of the tunnel, the image would be much less engaging, in my opinion. It might be the photo’s most important element actually, so very well done there.”

He also noted the repeating lines within the poles and beams that guide the eye through the depth of the image and to the mountains in the background. Those mountains could benefit from a slight increase in contrast, he added, and the horizon could be adjusted a bit so the horizontal beams are straight.

“It’s great on its own, but it has a lot of potential for experimentation also,” he said. “from adding a person to perhaps even trying HDR techniques to capture some details of the dark tunnel. You’ve got a great eye, and you’ve done a great job.”

Now that he’s off auto and trying more advanced techniques, Sandy enjoys shooting landscapes as well as birds—subjects that are both prevalent where he lives in New Zealand.

What’s the next “tunnel” you need to go through to advance your photography? Getting off of auto, or tackling more advanced techniques?

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So that’s Oarsum!

My photography blog is at Things I see, photographed

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