Friday, 28 August 2015

Namaste, Cleaning Monitors

If you are the Cleaning Monitor in your home you might return your palace to its gleaming newly erected self once or twice a week. Lucky you. Or you may have a more erratic janitorial approach if preoccupied with other pressing matters like the care of an aging father, and delivering a book baby. All the while secretly hoping one of your slobby flatmates might suddenly recall where the vacuum cleaner lives –

Mrs Nilfisk
Behind the Blue Doors
Under-stair cupboard

And take charge. They don’t. So when the dust bunnies knit themselves a scarf along the skirting boards that would make Nom D proud you shriek in disgust. This place is a tip.

Instead of going skiing - because it’s another beautiful frosty morning in Queenstown and it snowed 5cms last night - you embark on a cleaning frenzy. You dust, you vacuum - with the pipe only like a crazy nesting woman. You use a whole can of Murray’s Cavalier Bremworth Dry Stain remover on the yellow blobs all over daughter 17’s once plush grey carpet, repeat three times while enjoying a chemical high. You mop the polished concrete floors. You scrub the dunnies. You fold washing and PUT IT AWAY.

Your lower arms and triceps ache. You perspire, kick off your slippers and strip to your merino singlet. Whoop whoop! Who needs to ponce about at the gym enveloped in Lulu lemon. Clean-yo-house is the latest craze-ercise. Tone those batwings and get yourself some satisfaction, Cleaning Monitors!

Talking of monitors, my 81 year old dad is the self-appointed recycling monitor at his rest home. I've watched him attack a cardboard wrapped mini fridge sized package with the zing of a child undressing presents on Christmas morning. And like that child, he has no care for contents. Only wrapping. Plastic is ferried to its rightful bin, followed by cardboard squares carefully cut with scissors to theirs.

His dexterity makes me proud. Still using his hands now he has no daily chores to attend. For 38 years he prepared his breakfast each morning, and delivered his partner a tray in bed. Latterly, the boiled egg may’ve been missing. Or the spoon. But the small Bodum of coffee was always made. Never broken. The few times I took his partner’s place and cared for Dad at home, the exact same tray was laid out for me.

The day before Dad was legging it down the drive when I drove up. He’d managed to push a chair over to a 1.5 metre, key-padded gate, reach over to the handle on the other side and release himself. I was proud again of his escapist spirit. His wanderlust. Incarceration be damned. The staff’s running a Breakout Sweepstake with another resident who’s memorised the gate code. So far the other guy’s winning. Come on Dad!

But it’s actually quite a dangerous pursuit for an old guy. Brittle bones, brain in a whirr, what with falling and all. Clearing the garden of magnolia seed heads and biffing them over the fence is a safer option.

‘You got a potato patch under those nails, Dad.’

It is the games of children now. The unwrapping. The giddy excitement of a chocolate biscuit. Ooh could I have another, a different one. A buttered scone and three lettered scrabble. Picking fluff off the carpet and pulling the curtains after lunch.

He made it all the way to the main road last month and headed north.  A frail leggy homing pigeon, shoulder sloping heavily to the left, a mop of badly trimmed white hair on a road to nowhere.  No prison stripes though. He’s sartorial almost in his camel corduroys, brown brogues, blue checked shirt, and soft green v-necked sweater. A similar shirt and sweater combo he insists on wearing under his pyjama top each night. Well, he is the Recycling Monitor.

Come Monday this Cleaning Monitor will be donning her Lulu lycra and heading to yoga. The dust bunnies can boil themselves into a rug of dog-hair-felt for all I care. This CM needs to restring some sinews; take her body through a meditation. Plank. Cobra. She’ll be downward doggy dogging it all the way to the best part. Shavasana. Then prostrate, eyes shut, hands on belly in simple silence. For a moment – a five minute moment – she’ll be somewhere else …

She’s in a bare apple tree on a sunny winter’s morning. She’s a baby bird sitting on a branch. An old tui clambers in and drinks sugar water. Then a bellbird. A waxeye. A tomtit. A yellow eye. It’s Noah’s flippin aviary arc in that tree. Sound comes. It could be whale music, it’s calming. No, it’s birdsong - lobble lobble lobble click scrick click. And feathers on feather. Scriffle scruffle. The air is crisp. She breaths it down. Squinting now, the sun burrows into her irises. Warms her wings. A heat she wishes north … 

She'll recall a conversation.
He says, ‘It’s wall to wall rain up here.’
‘The grey makes you feel gloomy doesn’t it.’
‘Yes, there is a certain sort of feeling like that on top of it.’

... But her sky radiates royal blue. The best colour. It covers the land ...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Buy Books

It was Friday afternoon - I strolled along Camp Street to the ASB bank. On the doorstep, a middle-aged Maori dude, with a full face tattoo and black Dirty Dog wraparound shadze, was selling books. He looked friendly, not imposing. I stopped and picked one up.

“TRUE RED, The Life of an ex-Mongrel Mob Gang Leader”.

A younger version of himself was on the cover. His hair and beard have turned salt and pepper, a bushy brown pony tail was just visible.

‘You must be the author?’

‘Co author.'

‘You’re a long way from home, I grew up in Hawkes Bay.’ (Home of the mung-ie mob, as we used to call them.)

‘You on holidays then?’

‘No, I live here.’

‘Poor you,’ he chuckled.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Tuhoe,’ he said, through inked lips. He lifted his shades and greeted me with soft eyes. ‘What’s yours?’


‘Plain Jane!’ he chuckled again.

‘Thanks a lot.’

‘Where’d you live in Hawkes Bay, I boxed in Waipukurau?’

‘All over. Onga Onga, Takapau. We were farm managers. Waipukurau. Wanstead. I worked in the Freezing works in Takapau once. Stuck out a bit.'

‘I bet.’

I skim read the inside front of the book. ‘Did you have a ghost writer?’


‘How much is your book?

‘Forty five dollars.’

Jeesh, I would have whistled then if I could. I know books, how much they cost to print. Maybe he had to pay his ghost writer, bulk, like those All Black books. ‘Have you heard of Jarrod Gilbert? He wrote a book about New Zealand gangs. "Patched". It won an award.’

‘Yes, I’m in his book, but it’s all summation. This is the real thing,’ he tapped an inked finger on his book. ‘It’s from the heart.’ He pumped a thick fist onto his chest.

‘I’m publishing a book before Christmas,’ I blurted out. ‘It’s a children’s book. It’s ultimately about believing in yourself,’ I explained before he felt obliged to ask.

‘So’s mine.’ He opened the book and read out a random passage that genuinely needed some Steve Braunias editing.

‘I’ll take one.’

He signed my copy with a blue Bic and his un-inked right hand. Tuhoe Isaac. Best wishes. 14.8.2015. He took my $50 and reached into the bumbag strapped tightly across his bulk for a five dollar note.

‘Can I take your photo? I’ll put you on my twitter feed. Might get some publicity for your book. Help sales.’ (yerp with my massive following of 360).

‘Sure,’ he said, and shuffled slightly taller and posed like an important tribal chief might. ‘I’ve got to get in touch with my co-author soon. We’re writing another book.’

‘Cool, good luck with that.’

‘Yeah, good luck with yours too. Kia ora.’

On the way home I collected a friend’s daughter. ‘Oh I bought that book about six months ago,’ she said.

‘Did you? What did you pay? He charged me 45 bucks!’

‘I don’t think it mine cost that much.’

I read the inside front cover. First printed 2007.

Eight years ago. Time flashed forward. I had a vision – of my 59-year-old self, sitting on the cobbled pavement outside the ASB Queenstown, on Friday afternoons, sat on a collapsible picnic stool, invisible behind wrap around shadze with reflector lenses, selling remaindered Lily Max books for $50 apiece.

I hope it doesn’t come true. Then again, too bad if it does. 

Buy books people. That’s all I can say. Buy books!

Friday, 14 August 2015

When and If - About Time

When you’ve written a book and done final edits you will find yourself doing final final edits. At the same time you will most likely develop INSOMNIA. Well, a version of. You can go to sleep, but you will wake any time from 1, 2, 3 or 4am onwards. Worrying about any number of things, like how to organize a book launch, what to wear to a book launch and what to SAY at a book launch. As well as how to fix that re-worked sentence that just doesn’t seem quite right. Yet.  Moreover, WILL THIS BOOK EVER BE FINISHED.

No matter, because when you’re awake in the middle-of-the-night it’s the perfect time to take your iPhone under the covers and check your emails from your illustrator, going about his arty day in Barcelona. However, when an hour and a half has passed you might find yourself looking at your facebook, twitter and Instagram feeds hoping your eyes will get really tired and send a message through to your brain along the lines of - go the fuck to sleep.

If you are the nominated Supper Monitor in your home, sometimes you wish this wasn’t so. Times when you are frazzled, knackered, anxious, oh and preoccupied with finishing that exciting thing which has paper and a spine and YOUR name on the front. You might say out loud at 5.30pm, “I’m going to school interviews, we’re having steak and potatoes,” and nod towards the bucket of freshly dug early potatoes. The ones the seed suppliers stated were not keepers, but have been preserved for months deep in the potato patch under a crust of frozen earth. At the same time, you’ll send a telepathic message, ‘roasted would be nice, garden salad also.’ Upon your return at 6.55pm you might be greeted with a cheery, “What would you like me to do with the potatoes?”

WTH. No mind, The H is on overdrive too. Organizing an event. A series of events in fact, ultimately celebrating a friend and a hero. Youth and life. You sip a black ale. Peel and chop and microwave those Murphy’s for 4 minutes, mop up all the ju ju they expel, drizzle them with olive oil and rolled rosemary and blast them for 20 mins in your preheated oven. Fry the steak, toss the salad and serve. Because YOU are the Supper Monitor.

When  you’re trying to get out the door, the following night to the main event, which starts at 4pm and it’s 3.45pm (and you’ve just got home) you might ask daughter 16, to put the chickens away. ‘Don’t get chook poo on your Docs though,’ you warn, as she strides off. Chances are, on her return, she races through every carpeted portion of the house with a fresh avian turd squidged into the tread of her left boot. No mind. After promptly abandoning the house and letting it dry for 14 hours approximately you take the hoover pipe to these khaki heel prints and they come clean away; without having to employ Cavalier Bremworth Dry Stain Remover. (BTW this stuff is brilliant and is marketed by this really nice guy called, Murray.)

If the following day, you find yourself trying to get the next event on time, 20 minutes before departure you naturally decide the time is right to experience the, Dr Lewinn’s Private Formula – Line Smoothing Complex High Potency Mask. The mask that has been waiting patiently beside your basin for well over two weeks. You apply the hydrogel sheets to your face correctly. You allow the potent ingredients to activate as you RELAX. Hurriedly getting dressed and drying your hair. Realizing you must remove the mask in order to draw in the sparse prairie of your eyebrow etc, you whip it off and gasp at the ‘instant smoothing radiance’ your $20 has achieved. You make note to self: will buy again! And apply more carefully so’s not to make MORE creases.

Thankfully the eucalyptus and freesia wreath you felt moved to make for the commemoration service is complete. You grab it and run out the door. Drawing a lipstick line into the fading points of your cupid’s bow in the car mirror as you zip down the road, praying as you do when you pass the mad cat lady’s house (only 46 furry residents at last count) that none of them cross the road at point of passing.

When you reach the quiet gathering of friends and family beside the 20 year old rata tree, the massive rock and the brass ice axe sculpture that marks the climber friend and hero, you’re early. You place the wreath, you’d planned to be small and discreet and which turned out 40cm across, upon that rock alongside the spring posies wrapped in tinfoil. You stand square footed and listen to the tributes, try to imagine that mountain summit. K2. You see a smiling face, a strong chin. You only lean on The H when the Cold Play chorus sings about skin and bone. But for the first time in 14 years you don’t think of your own lost brother. You think only of theirs.

The family plant a kowhai tree. Friends plant daffodil bulbs.

Time moves on. If and when.

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