Tuesday, 13 March 2018

rain fall from concrete coloured skies

I'm aware that Bic Runga's "Drive" is a New Zealand music cliche. It's a Nature's Best compilation, Sunday afternoon trapped in front of Squeeze, half an hour waiting on the line to StudyLink while you panic over the missed student allowance payment.

"My head's so heavy -- could this be all a dream?"

But I can't help it. It sounds like New Zealand to me. It sounds like 8mm film, like being nostalgic for a moment that's happening right in front of you.

"Let rain fall from concrete coloured skies"

And you can hear the soft New Zealand rain, the damp, wet ferns, the warm grey clouds hanging above your streets. The rain falls. It's always falling.

That sense of stillness, isolation, empty, boring, alone. Standing on a bridge in Hamilton, with only cars going past. No one walking, jogging -- just you. The river goes by underneath. Brown, muddy. The horizon is a neat triangle of river, trees, and bridge. Nothing blocks out the sun except the clouds, and there's so many clouds. That's one thing I miss. Clouds.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

John Key, shrugging

New Zealand has reached a very strange moment in its political life.

On one hand, we've got the natural conclusion of the New Zealand politician: John Key, shrugging. That's it. That's all anyone in New Zealand ever wanted from their leaders. Forget Kirk's rousing, blood-pumping bootstraps-with-compassion speeches, forget Lange's wit and intelligence, forget Savage's implementation of policies that make pre-Labour New Zealand look like the wild west. Forget even Clark's centrist, evenhanded, cautious approach. What we've always wanted is a man so indifferent to the needs of his countrymen that he can't start a sentence without lurching it out of himself with a shrug of the shoulders.

This is what we like. Has the Auckland housing market eaten itself? Nah, it's not too bad. Does New Zealand have thousands of children going to school hungry? Nah, it's fine. Have my ministers been doing dodgy deals? I don't think New Zealanders really care about that. This is it -- New Zealand's political personality embodied in one cynical, jiggly-shouldered man. We (apparently) pride ourselves on innovation and doing things on our own, but in reality we're just cobbling stuff together and shrugging away any resulting workplace fatalities. We'd like to think we're laid back but really we chastise anyone who raises any concerns. It's less "She'll be right" than "Don't be a little bitch." John Key's shrugs and indifference tell us he doesn't care and neither should we, and we like that.

And, yet, oddly, on the other hand, he does care. He cares so much that he got Campbell Live taken off air. New Zealand's Prime Minster got a current affairs show yanked off a private broadcaster due to its politically troubling content. He cares so much he believed Campbell Live had it in for him and his government -- never mind that Campbell used to regularly wind up Helen Clark. He simply thought John Campbell was being a prick, and put the hit out on his show. One can make all sorts of comparisons to police states and communists and censorships and whatever else -- but that would only raise the blood pressure and the spectre of caring too much.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The weather is warmer, the sun is up longer, my curtains are now open -- and I'm still wandering around in my briefs

The weather is warmer, the sun is up longer, my curtains are now open -- and I'm still wandering around in my briefs.

In the age of central heating you can go from one season to another and barely register a change -- if, like me, you only leave the house to go sit in another building. The only real sign that the Earth has drifted through space is that when you get in from work there's sunlight streaming in through the curtains.

And so you open them. Leaves, flowers, birds, sunlight. Lovely.  But then your whole routine is disrupted. Before, with the curtains shut, you could walk around half-dressed or even undressed and do whatever the hell you like. Being winter, you were probably dressed in some slob-configuration of Buzz Lightyear onesie with a Ninja Turtle onesie over the top, with your arse somehow peeking out. No coming in from work and throwing off your restrictive work clothing for you anymore. Now that the curtains are open, you have to be dressed at all times.

Walking around naked in your own home should be part of the unwritten rule of the Somebody Else's Problem field. Obviously, your neighbour across the street CAN see you swinging your genitals about in the living room, and your neighbour at the back CAN see you gamely trying to cook tea without heating up essential parts of your own body. But they shouldn't acknowledge it, lest they find you staring back at them, all judging eyes and nipples framed in a yellow-lit kitchen window.

I believe all neighbours should follow the time-tested rules of the invisible ignorance field, best exemplified when someone walks past your living room window. They can see you, you can see them, but, so long as neither of you acknowledge this hideous fact, the field of ignorance is intact and we can all go on with our day safe in the knowledge that we are the only human beings on the entire planet.

However, this precious field is easily broken. All it takes is a passerby to -- god forbid -- wave at you while you're sat in your own damn living room and it's gone. You're no longer in your house, you're on display, in an exhibition, in a glass casing. They might as well kick in the windows.

This field is also in effect within a single dwelling. The flatshare tends to have multiple fields working at any given time. A flatmate exiting the shower can expect to make it from the bathroom to their bedroom without their hair, body or choice of towel being commented upon, because the field says they are invisible. People in flatshares don't go to the toilet, they simply cease to exist for the duration, and then return to the living room and our plane of existence with no questions asked. This is a delicate formula and, like the rubbernecking bastard ogling in through your living room window, can be easily broken. When a flatmate is in their bedroom with the door open, another flatmate cannot talk to them, or comment on their room, or even assume that because their door is open, they're available for any immediate appointments. The invisible field of ignorance is at play, and if it's broken, a flatmate in their room with their door open is suddenly turned into a kind of life-sized advent calendar, simply waiting in a little closet for someone to walk past and strike up a conversation. They now have no choice but to move out and seek more ignorance-field-attuned flatmates elsewhere.

Since most people have had to endure the flatshare situation at some point in their lives, I don't think it's too much to expect that they can re-engage with the invisible field of ignorance during the warmer months. It is a mutually beneficial understanding that works both ways, allowing us all to enjoy imaginary privacy in our crammed together homes, as we traipse about in front of the windows, all cheery summer buttocks and breezy spring genitals.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

One Fine Day in the Waitrose Free Coffee Queue


Customers queue at the free coffee machine. Quite a lengthy queue, 7 people deep.

A man stands waiting at the machine as it whips up a cappuccino.

Someone enters the shop. Attempts to pass through the queue on their way somewhere else. THE QUEUE growls, fidgets, begrudgingly lets him through. It's tense.

The cappuccino customer finishes, and the queue jolts forward. The FIRST IN LINE CUSTOMER stabs at the buttons.

"Milk... low?"
The queue jostles and rhubarbs, mild panic.
Don't worry, Pete's just gone down to get some. Won't be a minute.
The queue nods and mutters to itself.
Oh, ok, he's just gone down to get some, yes, yes, alright, all is fine, all is good...
Someone enters the shop, attempts to pass through the queue on their way somewhere else. THE QUEUE growls, fidgets, begrudgingly lets her through.

They stare ahead at the coffee machine. "Milk Low" blinks back at them. 


What's taking him so long?  
What could he possibly be doing down there?
Why don't we just go grab it ourselves?
What? We can't do that.
Why not? It's free out the machine. We could just go grab it! 
All the milk in the shop is free, then?
And the coffee?
And the water?  
Let's just fucking grab it!
Grab it all! Grab it all!
Someone enters the shop, attempting to pass through the queue on their way somewhere else. 
The Queue splits apart, grabbing bottled water, hefting 3-litre bottles of milk out of the shelves, sweeping bags of coffee into handbags, booting over stacks of baskets--

Grab it all! Grab it all! Milk low! MILK LOW!
They barrel out of the shop, milk and water and coffee and pastries and ready-meals scattering around them, as the SEVENTH in line rips the machine out of the wall and dashes outside, wires trailing along the ground after him.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014



Occasionally, you'll get a whiff of something that flashes you back to your childhood. One second you're standing in line in the work canteen, the next you're six years old, lying on the floor, and freaking out about Ebola and invisible death.

You're suddenly presented with an A-B comparison: now and then. 'Then' seems full of smells, tastes, colour. 'Now' just seems dulled and detached. An empty head atop a distant body.

I can't pinpoint the exact age when I realised my body was starting to step back from the world, but I remember quite specifically noticing that it had already begun to happen. I woke up one morning feeling duller than when I went to sleep. Perhaps whatever happened yesterday was so cataclysmic it rendered that day's events meaningless in advance.

It's a mixed blessing - you might be a numb automaton, but at least you're able to cope with the massive pileup of miserable human experience you've accumulated over the years. The more you know, the less you care, and the less you remember. Imagine being one of those people who can somehow remember their own birth. They're probably suicidal.

Anyway, back to the flashback. There you are, mid-20s and mildly serene in a foggy headspace, when some bastard puts a particular kind of bread in the toaster or turns up to work in a particular kind of aftershave and you're suddenly at your dad's house at 11am, bored out of your mind and picking at the carpet as you lie about on the living room floor. You're also terrified of death. So aware are you of sounds and smells and tastes and sights that you feel incredibly vulnerable, and thus overwhelmingly close to the possibility of dropping dead at any second. You're at the furtherest point you'll ever be from dying and yet because of your hyper-aware child brain, you're more petrified by the prospect than you (hopefully) ever will be. And even post-death. Sometime it's just the impossibility of non-existence. You pick at the carpet -- it offers no solutions. 

I was particularly terrified of death. And germs. But mostly death. Any mention of it on TV would set me off. I'd imagine a great void, like outer space, where you'd hurtle towards some death-planet, chilled to the core by the sudden realisation that you've taken every single little speck of your life for granted. You were only inches away from this, the whole time. 

I also happened to see a film entitled 'Outbreak'. I'm not the only one. A generation was scarred by Dustin Hoffman in a bio-hazard suit, striding about hopelessly as Kevin Spacey bleeds out on a gurney. Ebola! Monkeys! Rene Russo! I lost sleep over this thing. I was convinced Ebola was coming and there was nothing I could do about it except freak out -- only through sheer force of freaking could I hope to save myself.

The odd thing about all this freaking is that I'm now closer to Ebola than ever before: New Zealand is probably the last place on Earth that would have an Ebola outbreak (except Madagascar). As a 6 year old, this fact wasn't immediately clear to me, although I don't recall my dad pointing this out to me either, as I shrieked around the house.

And yet here I am, in the UK, Ebola in the news, the threat advancing by the day. Across Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, there are thousands of people dead. Borders are closing. Families see their sick relatives taken away and they never come back. Men with guns guard the medical tents, adding to the distrust and the fear. The virus has been picked up in Dallas and in Madrid. All we need now is a careless Kevin Spacey. 

And yet, thanks to age's dulling of the senses, I'm relatively calm. I'm no longer on the floor, freaking out. I'm just sitting, on the sofa, and finding out whatever happened to Rene Russo on wikipedia. Thank god for the numbness. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Well, at least Key's having a good time. After all, we're mostly just bits of matter for him to shift about into ever more economically viable positions. 

But surely even John Key is having a Jeff Bridges moment right now. After a wonderfully bizarre campaign season that should have ripped his nice-guy persona to shreds, he's still standing. Possibly atop the ANZ Centre in the Auckland CBD. Arms stretched wide, cheeks reddening in the crisp night air, the blustery waterfront winds whipping off the harbour and up the side of the 35-stories-tall skyscraper and across his thinning hair, as he breaks into laughter and begins to twirl and spin on the ledge while his estranged wife looks on. Fearless.

Sorry. I'd like to apologise. 

I'm being another aloof left-wing pundit, commentating from within my detached media smug-pod located in deep outer space. Like the Listener. I've never read Metro. Or North&South. They're the same thing.

This government trades on apathy. They thrive when no one's looking, and know that answering a question is to acknowledge that question -- just see John Key's shrill schoolboy cries of "Whatever! Whatever!" during the Stuff debate. 

The political conversation never gets off the ground, leaving whatever scraps of left-wing print media we've got devoting their time to trying to out-wry each other, while the right-wing press (i.e. all of the press) cheerleads endlessly for Team Key. Everyone who isn't an old white fart has long given up on even noticing who's in power. It's like a Mexican-wave of shrugging from one end of the country to the other. 

I wonder when morals and human decency went from being civilised human behaviour, the base level of society, to just another ideology. These things are not a theory to be messed about with. This isn't Objectivism. These attributes are not optional. 

New Zealand didn't exist until the first Labour government. Everything that is good and proper and normal and taken for granted about post-colonial New Zealand is due to Michael Joseph Savage and its been a slow erosion since then. 

Only when that erosion reaches ground zero can the Labour movement return. Only when we start stuffing kids down chimneys again will those 1 million National voters and 1 million enrolled non-voters notice something's askew. 

Because Key's got a formula and he's not going anywhere. 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Jimmy McButt

And so I walked from the burning wreckage, reborn, as Mr Jimmy McButt.

It all started with logging into stuff. There was too much stuff. Passwords, usernames, security phrases, captchas, taste tests -- when I wasn't struggling with a long lost password I was straining to remember my own goddamn name. It was a daily struggle. One time Yahoo decided to link my Flickr account to my Yahoo account -- which I hadn't touched since 2001. Handily, they sent me a new password to my Hotmail account -- also unused since the early 00s, and now long expired. I stared into the night, a broken man.

And then they did it: the 'sign in with Facebook' option. Whoever came up with that - they're a genius. Not only because it stopped us all from punching our computers into the sky, but because it effectively let Facebook loose on the entire internet. Your Facebook account could dig its data-hungry fingers into every single site you visit, letting them (THEM) capitalise on your laziness by finding out even more about you. Right now, as we speak, they're tailoring their ad space to your specific interests, curiosities and perversions, and then charging their advertisers accordingly.

You, in return, are spared the agony of remembering and typing in a password.

It was sort of win-win, if your idea of winning is to have the websites you sign into randomly post crap on your Facebook feed and to have an enormous humming server in Salt Lake City know more about you than you do.

Personally, it was just too high a price. I enjoyed the ease of the Facebook sign-in -- but not the data-mining downside. I concluded that there must be some way to have the best of both worlds.

Which is where Jimmy McButt came in.

Mister McButt (Jim to his friends) served as a forcefield, a splatter-guard -- a fake Facebook account with which to "sign in with Facebook" to 3rd-party sites, without coming back to me. The real me.

Jimmy McButt would happily sign in to Facebook to hold forth on the comments threads of Youtube and Buzzfeed, and had no qualms whether anyone liked his opinions or not. Nor would he care if Youtube and Buzzfeed decided to pump his Facebook feed with "Jimmy McButt commented on this: 16 Facts About Marty McFly That Will Totally Blow Your Mind". McButt was cool with it. He was very chill. Relaxed. A cool guy. Calm under pressure. Good with heavy machinery. And cars.

From that day on I traversed the internet as Jimmy McButt, free from molestation of my (real) gmail account, while Jim's gmail took a pasting. I even got postage delivered to my house under Mr McButt, safe in the knowledge that Amazon had a record of only Jimmy's horrendous taste in books, and not of my own.

I continued to wear the Jimmy McButt costume, and his internet presence grew: Twitter, Flickr, the bank, this blog -- everything was easier as McButt. Life got easier. I became addicted. I couldn't go back. Not now. I clicked 'like' on another Buzzfeed post and felt a zing of excitement as it notified Mr McButt's Facebook friends without me giving the slightest of shits. Go back to my old ways? No. There was too much at stake now.

And so one evening I did it. I plucked up the courage and made it final. I drove the Skoda hard and fast to Lower's Peak, tossing myself from the driver's side just in time to see the bodywork shine briefly in the yellow moonlight, hanging in the air like a sharp intake of breath, before slamming nose-first into the rocks below.

And I walked from the burning wreckage as Jimmy McButt.

Doors began to open to me. People would call me 'sir' in the street. I'd enter 4-star restaurants and be shown to the best table in the house. Valets would pull up with my car as soon as we stepped from the lobby, our cheeks blossomed with fine wine and expensive steak.The lights shone brighter than ever before, and they shone just for me, Jimmy James McButt -- wheeler, dealer, and fearless orderer of dubious goods online. It all happened so fast, and it all felt like a wonderful dream that would last forever. But it never could. Nothing ever can.

One morning I awoke to a knock at the door. The postman had been, he'd got the wrong house. This must be yours. They handed me the parcel. I looked down at the address: a parcel for Mr McButt. For me.

"See you round, Jim", said my neighbour, as I stared after them. See you round, Jim. I closed the door.

And I knew. They'd got me. They'd finally got me. All this time, hiding behind a new identity, a new name, a new personality -- I was merely grafting it onto my old one. I ceased to be Michael Kerby and was now Jimmy McButt and it didn't make a goddamn lick of difference.

I sat down, hard, on my computer chair. I was dazed. In shock. Where to now? Where do I go? I looked up at the ceiling and imagined thousands of tiny cameras, tiny eyes, staring down at me, watching me, logging my every movement and microscopic sniffle under McButt, J. It was hopeless. Or was it?

I turned to the keyboard. Facebook. Delete profile. Yes, I'm sure. I watched Jimmy McButt vanish into the ether. See you round, Jim.

Register. I thought for a moment, staring at the empty space, at the new beginning, another one, stretching out before me.

I placed my hands on the keyboard, tapped in a new name, and was reborn.

Experienced, sophisticated, worldly. A better model.

"You Won't Believe These 11 Cats That Look Exactly Like Marty McFly"

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