Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Confessions of a Social Media Dropout

My kids fall in to fits of giggles when I proudly tell them I have: 26 facebook friends, 19 likes on my LilyMax Fan Club page, 21 followers on Twitter and 3 followers on my blog (okay that bit IS embarrassing).

But I’m good with it. As a middle-aged* matriarch presiding over three children, one husband, two horses, four chickens, one old black dog, one young black cat, one goldfish called Zoomy, 16 rambling acres and a large dusty house; I like to try and keep a grip on things. There is only so far my tentacles can stretch encompassing all my daily duties.  Plus I like to give a personalized service.

Aside from my gmail inbox that sits on 950, I follow:  16 bloggers, 51 Twitterers,  ‘like’ 27 pages,  tweet daily, post statuses and interesting links weekly. I generally spend far too much time reading, liking, commenting and being an involved social-media-persona. This is called ‘reciprocity’. It’s the modern day equivalent of the book tour. And simply means if you want to make your presence felt (blogger presence felt in my case), you have to put-yourself-about. The upside is you can connect with witty and intelligent people all over the country and the world like, the fabulous Mumsnet Blogger Network based in London; all without the airfare.

I have stooped low though. I must confess I’ve read my blogger dashboard page as fervently and as regularly as my children count the likes on their facebook statuses.  OCSMD is not just confined to the young. Psst, don’t let on.  Thankfully I’m easily pleased. When my blog page views reached 500 I was SO ecstatic I nearly posted on facebook.  But held back. When they burgeoned to over 1250 and climbing I REALLY wanted do. I held back again. If a magazine or newspaper editor asks to buy a story, that’s when I’ll share. As if? Jinks, you owe me a soda.

The lowest I’ve fallen is googling my tag words to see where I’m ranked on searches. One post I did on the hot topic of the human consumption of HORSEMEAT, titled I Could Eat a Horse, was 7th past the post out of a total of 1,007,000 links. A win by a nose in my books.  Slightly arse about face, but jeepers, I was almost trending. Now, if someone left a comment (that wasn’t a spam cigarette site based in China) it’d be like winning the Daily Double.

The one thing I will not do is tweet that I have been re-tweeted. Yipee. Not. Although I have witnessed big name media folk begging for followers so they can cap ridiculous figures like 30,000. Even sweet Judy Blume did that trying to get to 80,000 followers on twitter.She's now on 85k+. She's famous already. What Kim K does with her  17,555,420 followers I can’t imagine. I suspect half of them don’t even speak Kardashian.

Blogs are not for everyone, my husband will not read them yet he does the majority of his current affairs reading online and has done for the past five years. Gone is the daily ritual of buying the newspaper, except on Sundays with pain au chocolat x cinq, s’il vous plait. He also follows ‘forums’, the forerunners of social media sites and blogs. ‘Sailing Anarchy’, for example - an interactive e-zine about the world of sailboat racing which includes articles, interviews, editorials, rumours, and a message board.  Free to read but the journalists get paid.

I wonder what will happen in this public domain of free on-line press in the future? If bloggers just die a natural death when the novelty or adsense drops off. If I was to look deep into my horse’s big brown eyes (a bit like looking into the grand canyon of crystal balls) I doubt I’d find the answer. But I’m currently hooked. I love the discipline, the challenge and the public interaction with other likeminded people. One big happy cyber-family as far as I’m concerned.

The chances of an editor looking for a new columnist, reading my blog then emailing me and offering me fulltime employment are about as high as me winning a prize in daughter 12’s Easter Hamper Raffle. But I did.

I bought $10 worth of tickets. Over, the next three weeks more raffle cards came home and $2 coins disappeared from my wallet. Then yesterday, a teacher left a message on my cellphone informing me she couldn’t send my prize home with the kids as it has alcohol in it. Let’s hope there’s also sufficient foil wrapped eggs and bunnies to last this chocolate-greedy family the weekend. 

Have a happy relaxing reader y Easter everyone!     

*between the age of 40 & 60

Friday, 22 March 2013

On an Island called Stewart

I'm back from the island of Stewart, at the very bottom of New Zealand, with a new appreciation for journalists in war zones. How do they do it? How do they manage to keep their writing brains connected, post regular news stories and front video footage as havoc rains around them?

It hardly bears comparison, but I found my week in the peach coloured kitchen of the RSA Pavillion, as camp cook, broiled my cerebral connectors. Encrusted them in a thick layer of meat-dish-deep macaroni cheese. Made them sluggish.

Every morning, I enjoyed the island's heady birdsong as I walked to work, admiring the orange sunrises over Half Moon bay in the village of Oban.

I tried to write sentences in my head (as I often do, then promptly forget). But nothing would come. Loodle lardle oodle, said the tuis. So in the meantime, before I recount the dawn-breakers of the young backpacker couple in the room next to me, how-to-spot-an-islander and 100 ways with mince, I've made a picture-postcard-story.

House-boat at Golden Bay. Squint and you'll see the dinghy tied on to the back of this classic waterside crib. Handy.  Sun deck complete with boat launcher out front.

Boat-on-sand. Not an island cocktail. But a big lump of wood that floats.
Cheeky Mollymawks like Blue Cod

Child labour island style

Baiting rat traps, Ackers Point 

 Long legged Stewart Island Robin, Ulva Island.
Boat sheds, Golden Bay

Half Moon Bay, fishing boats early morning.

Don't leave home till you've seen the country, I say. 

On my second to last morning I had two hours to myself. I walked up the hill behind the village. By and by I found a bush track above Golden Bay. Fat Bellbirds sang in Kamahi. Four Kaka ate berries in a tall Miro. Tuis sat on branches of stately emerging Rimu. Tomtits hopped along beside me. Fantails squeaked. An abundance of birds and bush in a matter of half an hour. SIRCIT are doing an amazing job keeping pests to a minimum. 

I raced back to my kitchen. Pancakes and bacon for 15 coming up. I felt revived. This island is a gem. But it on your bucket list.

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Secret Diary of a Camp Mother

Lonnikers Beach, Half Moon Bay, Rakiura

I applied for a job a month ago.

It all started with a meeting.

‘Sell yourselves,’ they said. ‘Tell us why we should pick you. Talk yourselves up.’

So I did. I added a few lies. I couldn’t help myself. Not really lies, just little exaggerations of the truth. I wanted the job.

Problem is. I got it. Whoop whoop I thought. But then I asked questions and questions were asked of me. I said I was fine with it, but I turned my back and thought: I am SO the wrong person for this job. More to the point, it was not the job I applied for.

I put my name forward for, ‘Camp Mother’. The nice mum, comforting tired home sick girls and boys; giving yoga breathing sessions, in their cabins at night, as they cried themselves to sleep. The nice mum, boogie-ing after dinner to newly loaded i-tunes hits cranked out of my plastic chilly bag speakers. The energetic always up the hill first with the secret supply of chocolate mum. The funny joker mum. Think Topp Twins, but wearing three quarter black running pants with cutaway side tee, not clutching a handbag to my bosom in a pink terry toweling jumpsuit.

Alas, somehow I’d oversold my skills and inadvertently ended up as, ‘Camp Cook’. I was led to believe they only wanted professionals for that role, chefs or caterers. Master-chef or Best Home-baker material I am not.  I honestly thought I was in NO danger of being put in charge of the kitchen.

I should point out, that parent help positions on this school camp are highly sort after. There were a lot of applications. If I pulled out, my job would have been filled faster than a sandfly bite.

It’s the destination that’s the draw card: five days on pristine Stewart Island, 1hour ferry ride from Bluff, at the bottom of the South Island. Resident population: 390. Maori legend says that Rakiura (Stewart Island) acted as the anchor for Maui’s canoe (the South island) while he fished up the North (Island).

I’d only been there twice. Native birds fell out of trees I recalled. Carefree and abundant. One day we'll visit the bird sanctuary, Ulva Island, home to a newly revived Saddleback population. I've been wanting to go there forever. I wasn’t giving that up.

I attended meetings. I tried to hide my chagrin as the pennies dropped around me. I was to be stationed kitchen-side pretty much for the duration; providing breakfast, morning teas, lunches and dinners for two rotating groups. ‘It’s full-on,’ said previous cooks. ‘You’ll be exhausted.

A mega challenge? So be it. I ordered the mince. Two shopping bags full and spent the best part of seven hours last Sunday cooking it. I thought of writing to Jamie Oliver. I had a new TV series idea - ‘Vegetarian Camp Dinners’. I researched Teriyaki Chicken thigh recipes and easy codfish batter. A cook has to be prepared.

I checked the menu portions when emailed to me and made my two cents worth. Then like a giant turtle I pulled my head in. Electricity on Stewart Island is three times the price as on the mainland. So is food. Running out is not an option. Any navvy worth their salt should know that. If the system is tried and true, don’t add extra fresh vegetables to it.

I've packed my apron, rubber gloves, paring knives, i-pod and my sense of humour. Another mum assistant is bringing a special fruit cake. 

I've purchased my first NZ Book month read. Deborah Challinor's, "Behind the Sun". A seaward historical drama of four unlikely women on a perilous voyage to a new world. Hmm.

I've also ordered lovely NZ children's author, Melinda Szymanik's  latest book, "A Winters Day 1939". This amazing book is based on the actual experiences of her father, when Germany invaded Poland and the world was at war. He and his family were forced from their farm by Soviet troops, made to board a cattle train and so began an equally perilous journey...

As Arnie once remarked, 'I'll be back.'

Stewart Island anchors more than Maui's canoe. It anchors in its rocks, rivers, and rugged shores and in its garnishment of plants and animals, the hope of generations unborn that places like this will always exist.”
Neville Peat 1992

Saturday, 2 March 2013

I Could Eat a Horse

I could eat a horse. Or could I?

It’s strange how the more you research a subject the more you remove yourself from it. Take the horsemeat scandal currently pig jumping in the face of scurrilous backstreet traders in Britain. 

Naturally I was on the animals side. I could no more take my beloved horse to the yard, put a stun-gun to his head and whip him up into a fresh equine tartare, than I could skin my hunting cat. Yet I have found myself surfing the net and chatting to my blacksmith on the subject of horsemeat for neigh-on half a day. I’ve been surprised.

**           In Japan you can buy horsemeat ice cream. Basashi. Not exactly my go-to after dinner treat. I’d prefer lumps of chocolate through my vanilla swirl. Apparently it’s very chewy, yet low fat, so guilt free.  Ewww.

**           Winston Churchill loved horses; his passionate petition helped post World War I horses return to Britain. ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.’ He obviously wasn’t eyeing up a juicy flank steak to fill his belly when he said that. (Churchill also owned a number of cats, we would have got along.)

**           ”In Kazakhstan, there’is a dish sourced from almost every part of the animal, from the neck to the intestines and … (decided to edit that last morsel out). In Kyrgyzstan, horsemeat is traditionally consumed at big family gatherings.” Pony on a spit anyone?

**           "Horse and donkey meat was eaten in Britain, especially in Yorkshire the 1930s." Horse-shire pudding? 

**           One website said “…lack of historical taboo (in Asia) around this low fat protein has led to the development of a variety of delicious and innovative ways to consume Black Beauty and Co.” Pardon me. Eat Black Beauty? My first fictional horse love.

You see I was the seven year old who cantered everywhere, riding and BEING my imaginary pony. I imitated the perfect whinny and jumped everything in my path. Giddy-up Tonto.

My favourite TV show was, Dora at Follyfoot, an English drama set at a damp riding stable on a gloomy moor. The theme song still sends shivers up my spine. My bedroom walls were smothered in horsey collages. For birthdays and Christmases I was given books like, ‘For The love of Horses’ and ‘My Friend Flicka’. I scanned newspapers and magazines for anything to do with these adorable creatures. My scrapbook bulged with glossy show ponies and racehorse heads in black and white news print. If ‘Pony Mad Princess’ had been in print, I would have owned a boxed set.

It was my parent’s breakup that catapulted my equine love from the back garden to the corral. My stepfather-to-be flatted with the owner of a horse trekking business.  So my sister and I finally got to ride the real deal, not the 50cent plastic palomino outside Farmers. Tallyho and back to Singapore to visit Dad, and off to the Polo Club for riding lessons. Sweaty ponies with hogged mains, flicked at flies in the moist heat. We rode around a sawdust filled arena in jeans and Love-is t-shirts. Then returned home to Mum in New Zealand and begged for a pony. 

It didn’t take long until Wendy arrived - our very own grey mare. We took turns, or doubled, on the hills behind Havelock North and at pony club. Our riding improved, our desire deepened and we continued on our horsey way; gymkhanas, shows and the thunderous grounds of the hunting field. I didn’t wash my face the day I got blooded and kept my trophy, a hare’s ear, in my jewellery box beside my coral and pearl necklace for a decade. 

Thirty odd years later, I felt like I’d become a character in a Jilly Cooper novel when I donned jodhpurs, velvet hat and I rode my aforementioned horse. We have a combined age of 70 and hopefully will both go out in style, not to the knacker’s yard. 

NZ exports approximately 400,000kg of horsemeat a year. Russia and Belgium gobble up most of it. On the domestic market a steady trade in pet grade horsemeat is sold at the Mangere market, mainly to Tongans to make their traditional dish, Lo’ihosi. Horseflesh cooked up with coconut milk and onions for hours so it ends up tasting like, well, sweet and delicate apparently.

I doubt many kids in South Auckland are seen cantering about with imaginary riding crops whipping themselves over box hedges; then patting their proud and snorting mounts.  At $50 an 18kg box, horsemeat makes a super-value-meat-pack for any family, if you’re happy to eat it. 

Over the centuries, countries under siege or post war, whose populations were so hungry they could eat a horse, did. When working class Parisians couldn’t afford pork or beef, France overruled a 732 Papal ban and the first horse butchers appeared in 1866. They remained popular for two centuries.

Nowadays, the ‘Chevaline’, dotted among boutiques on the streets of Paris I visited as a teenager, have all but disappeared. It seems young Parisians are as squeamish as most of us, preferring chicken kebabs over pan fried heart of horse. 

They shoot horses don’t they? Yes, but not the greys. They are full of malignant melanomas. Horse cancer. ‘It’s disgusting.  Black spots all through them.’  So my blacksmith told me. He also said he wouldn’t eat horsemeat after witnessing what it did to the hounds when they ate it. ‘Weird stuff, it makes your hands oily.’

Enough. I led my freshly shod horse away and put him out to graze.

Through necessity or cultural preference humans eat horse and until the recent lasagne-gate the subject was a bit like male chickens; there but conveniently forgotten. We should be thankful that those meat slurry traders have been busted. Tighter regulations can only work in favour for man and beast. 

Thank heavens for summers abundance of courgettes. Ratatouille anyone?

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