Plenty of Pluck

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The ukulele has come a long way since Tiny Tim’s 1968 “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”.

For generations this four stringed, two octave range, diminutive member of the guitar family was the most deeply unfashionable instrument you could ever think of, with the exception of the recorder (and let us hope the recorder may stay this way). Mainstay of the school orchestra and Hula night parties, the ukulele was a lovely word to say but too often an instrument too cute and in the wrong hands too awful to listen to.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the ukulele’s resurgence began, but musical historians think 1999 is most likely.

That was the year that Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s ukulele version of “Over the Rainbow” was used in a ubiquitous commercial and captured the world’s heart. If you’ve been to any weddings recently you probably have heard it. Israel was a huge star and the song remains a favourite, racking up 115 million hits on YouTube alone.

It was also around that time that the ukulele started featuring as a new sound on indie music albums, and instead of being the accoutrement of stand-up comics that made you gag, the modern day hipsters, the style setters, the in-crowd seized it by the neck and made it seriously cool and edgy. It’s never looked back.

For baby boomers, the ukulele carries a whiff of nostalgia.For the surf crowd, it’s as hip as hula.images (1)

For the fashionistas it can do whatever you want it to do.

“The attraction then, you know, as a complete and utter outsider instrument, which was delightful to us, and then to realise that you could do anything and everything you wanted on it… It’s a great instrument to play; it’s very empowering because it’s easy to pick up and learn quickly –  it’s harder to play well, but you can teach someone to play a couple of songs in 10 minutes. When we first started there was nobody – literally nobody under 55 who played the ukulele,” says Hester Goodman of the wildly successful Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain which used to do 200 shows a year, but has cut it down to around 120 shows because of a hectic international touring schedule.

The Ukes brought the ukulele to the Proms and they’ve played repeat concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Svalbard, The Vienna Opera House, Glastonbury Festival, and the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells as well 1389366479_0_UkesSliderNewOP01as the local pub.

Their publicity material promises to take audiences on a world tour with only hand luggage and “One Plucking Thing After Another” as it travels  from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Redding and Spaghetti Western soundtracks.

The uking of the world is reaching a crescendo.

You can easily join the clamour. In fact every home should have a ukulele now.

ukulelepiccharliebrown_tmpMillions of ukuleles are sold each year in fashion colours and designs. I’ve been known to traipse around music stores across Europe with my musician husband looking for the perfectly resonant ukulele, the traveller’s perfect companion – light, portable, simple but satisfying to play and found in a moody blue shade of aubergine. It proudly sits alongside bigger acoustic and electric guitars where it too can rock and roll with the best of them.

imagesUkuleles are accessible to even the musically challenged and for those wanting to learn the Ukulele for Dummies guide book is but a click away or you can download numerous  online tutorials or have eye contact and take your ukulele along to a group or private tuition class.

There are even more social ways to learn with thousands of sing-along uke groups, home strumming clubs to join like you would a book club, but you get to choose a song to learn, and mass ukulele events and conventions to attend at home and abroad. This could be just the instrument to release your inner performer and add a new string to your bow so to speak. It would complement, indeed enhance, choir membership with a guaranteed following of friends and family at every public concert.

images (6)Festivals for ukulele lovers are big.

The NZ Ukulele Festival is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world.  Last year a record crowd of over 13,000 gathered in Auckland to enjoy non-stop entertainment from international and local musicians and to make music together.

The festival showcased the Kiwileles, a massed ukulele orchestra of thousands, along with continuous workshops tailored to all levels and ages, industry stalls, great food, competitions, giveaways and the annual “Great Kiwi Uke-Along” – an epic strum and sing of kiwi music! Sign me up.

There’s a growing ukulele discography to buy and a concert circuit of artists and virtuosos of all persuasions and musical genres to go and hear as well as a host of exceptional world-class orchestras and ensembles who do things with a ukulele you can only have dreamed of.

It’s hard to believe that what critics still call the “nasty little low-born Portuguese sailor’s instrument” has warranted a place at the Proms, starred on major network talk and entertainment shows, wins awards, and has an ever growing fan base.

The Canadian ukulele virtuoso, James Hill was one of the overseas star acts at NZ’s Ukulele Festival. His version of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean has clocking up more than 800,000 views on YouTube and he’s credited with taking what is sometimes still spurned as a children’s play-thing, to a new level.

“I’ve never been a really lucky person, but the whole ukulele thing is the first time in my life that I have been the right guy at the right time with the right skills,” he says.

20140422_075935_jake_300Jake Shimabukuro is a world ambassador for the ukulele, filling concert halls across America — and in Japan, Singapore, Russia and Brazil.

His pipsqueak instrument’s popularity in those far-flung places, he said, “really has been blowing my mind.”

If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better placeThere’s something about the ukulele that just makes you smile. It makes you let your guard down. It brings out the child in all of us.

Jake Shimabukuro’s extraordinary recordings of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody have made him a star.

In his hands I could be convinced that the ukulele could indeed be the instrument of peace.


A real piece of work


Narcissus has a lot to answer for. He started it and it’s just got worse and worse . So it’s no surprise that we are so obsessed with our physical appearance and how to attain perfection. We pay a high price for this predilection although we’d prefer you to gawp at the transformation in silent amazement and accept that this is the work of nature, nothing else.

We’re obsessed by physical attributes, many of them worthy to be counted among the manmade wonders of the world. We’re constantly measuring ourselves against the ideals of impossible celebrity beauty, perpetuating the myth that beautiful is good, lucky, successful and happy and ugly is bad.


Bubble wrapped Kim

It’s impossible to escape the beauty trap.

Almost 100 million selfies are snapped and posted each day, probably by the same people still trying to capture for eternity their best side, and we check our phones 100 billion times a day, probably to get affirmation that it was indeed their best side from people we don’t know and would be wise not to get to know.

Every which way we look popular media from billboards to reality television are telling us what beautiful is. The more superficial and unattainable, the better.

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Yes it is Ken and Barbie really really

But there’s an ugly side that needs to be seen and the wounds run deeper and the scars last longer than any from a facelift, boob job, trout pout, chin or tummy tuck, pectoral implants or unfortunately aimed botox jab. They come from faceless abusers trolling Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media channels telling your teenage daughter or son that they are not one of those beautiful people. They are fat and ugly and have pimples and are a loser, socially unacceptable and not worthy to be anyone’s friend! It’s death by a thousand cuts and the consequences are terrible.


Queen of the Selfie and Sensible Corsetry

Every period of history has had its own standards of what it defines as beautiful, and every contemporary society has its own distinctive concept of the ideal physical attributes we should aspire to, if skin deep is as deep as you go.

In the 19th Century being beautiful meant wearing a corset – causing breathing and digestive problems and crushing organs.

Now  we try to diet and exercise ourselves into the fashionable – read thinnest – shape, often with even more serious consequences. Or we follow  Kim Kardashian’s advice for instant voluptuousness with her pneumatic corset.

Why anyone would want to follow Kim Kardashian’s advice, let alone look like Kim Kardashian is beyond me. Kim Kardashian doesn’t know what Kim Kardashian looks like.

Humans have been willing to endure grievous sacrifices and indignities to conform to society’s ideal of beauty.

In Africa and Asia, the women of certain tribes still wear strangulating metal coils that deform their neck and shoulders and black and brown people who want to be white using the most dreadful lead-laced powders.


Posh works out

In China, where foot binding was in vogue, there remain elderly women crippled by the procedure.

We have Victoria Beckham with her bunions from crushing her tootsies into sky-high heels and Sarah Jessica Parker paying for her shoe obsession as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City with the unwanted take-home prize of a new bone growth in her foot.

 The obsession with youth and beauty rather than truth and beauty invites risk taking.

Why would people want to inject their faces with botulism toxins, smear sheep placentas or bird poop over their faces? What is the appeal of taking a bath in poo? Why would you lie in a coffin called a sunbed and go orange, staple your tummy so you can’t eat without leaking but have the figure of a 10-year-old with skin skirts flapping to your knees?

And why play God with stem cell treatments sold on line or by pyramid sellers, let fish nibble your feet, go for ‘thigh gap’ chemo and let surgeons recreate a new you in an image of a person you don’t know from head to toe, bosoms to bottom, batwing arms to cat eyes and teeth so white they look like stars and probably will come out one night.

Comedienne and acerbic fashion commentator Joan Rivers, who died of apparent natural causes following a cardiac arrest during outpatient surgery, was as famous for her potty, punchy, self-deprecating mouth as for her love affair with cosmetic surgery procedures – 739 – and counting.


“I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware,” she once said and described her addiction to beauty surgery like being a member of a coffee club. “Every time I do something new I get a 10th one free.”

Recent statistics from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons show demand for anti-ageing and cosmetic procedures is soaring with boob jobs still the most popular, followed by heavy demand for facial rejuvenation treatments, in particular, eyelid surgery and brow and face lifts. Fat transfer procedures are also more popular than liposuction ops – must be the Kim Kardashian effect again – and men are also wanting to look better with male brow lifts really rising, along with a lot of waxing.

The good news – and please listen Nicole Kidman and newsreaders – is that “frozen face” botox usage is on the way out and non-invasive treatments like laser resurfacing and peels that freshen the face are on their way in.

There’s also a growing choice for non-surgical facelift procedures with ranges of serums, skin peels, fat zappers, fillers and a harvest of sheep after birth to rejuvenate the over plucked, tucked and tired skin of the cosmetic surgery junkies like Melanie Griffith, Donatella Versace, the Bride of Wildenstein, Paul McCartney, Bruce Jenner and other melting moments.



And of course the makeup brush, a massive chest of cosmetics, falsies and fillers and the contourist is a real friend for the chisel cheeked, pouting mouth, spider-eyed look – oh it’s a Kim Kardashian moment again! What a fashionista and worthy woman of the year there!

Offering her best advice for women approaching older age, Sue Kreitzman, 73, one of the stars of the Fabulous Fashionistas documentary that celebrates the beauty, guts and energy of six wonderful women who are neither ugly nor nearly dead says: “Be the best you can be. That does not mean Botox and plastic surgery – Bah! Think about others. Do what you are passionate about. Don’t make money your first goal (although money is by no means unimportant). We are very lucky; although things are never perfect, we have freedoms and opportunities that many others can only dream of. Make the most of them.”

Apparently eating is also in, provided it is nutritious, raw and resembles horse chaff or otherwise is high fat with minimum vegetables unless it is fibrous kale juice. Look out for the headlines when Nicole Kidman or Jennifer Anniston or a starlet are reported to have been sighted with a disfiguring if slight bulge – if it’s not a baby – they must have had hundreds by now – then it could be a mouthful of food sitting there waiting for the digestive juices to reactivate or the enema to work.

Feminist and Hollywood celebrity killjoy, Naomi Wolf, writes in the Beauty Myth: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

fatty and skinnyJPGTrue and brutal Naomi, but the fashion for 00000 sizing and the amazing shrinking woman is not going to die away.

We are obsessed with skinny and it’s a life and death issue. Why would emaciated airheads like Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie and other billboard and television talking toothpicks be held up as role models to young girls who will become the next generation of the fat phobic, stung for life by being called “fat”, the first and meanest insult thrown at her by another girl?


But then fat women, who are coming out, also suffer if they are not the right kind of fat to fit with popular culture and clichés of Barbie-like waist-to-hip ratios, bouncy boobs, generous bottoms and of course no tummy overhang or multiple chins.

Beyoncé or Rihanna may be the ideal of a beautiful black woman and deemed to be super affirming and progressive because their feminine and sexy hourglass figures are a size 12 and not a 6. Get real!

There are some lessons for life for all of us from the six Fabulous Fashionistas in the documentary by award-winning director Sue Bourne. She introduces us to six extraordinary women with an average age of 80, who are not letting growing old get in the way of looking fabulous while having fun doing it. Jean Woods, Sue Kreitzman, Bridget Sojourner, Daphne Selfe, Gillian Lynne and Baroness Trumpington, all natural, intelligent beauties sans botox or plastic surgery, are redefining aging in style.

Fashionista new_A2Their advice is simple and savy: avoid beige – it might kill you, adopt inspiring role models, find inspiration in unusual sources, be curious and keep on learning, stay in shape, eat well and enjoy the odd vodka, embrace change and take risks. For their style tips and secrets for a fabulous life go to:

The last word belongs to Joan Rivers speaking about her surgery in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the 2010 documentary about her career. “I became a big advocate of it, then I became the poster girl for it, then I became the joke of it,” she said matter-of-factly.  She died, it is reported, in full makeup, every hair in place, thanks to her daughter who brought in the appropriate artists—as Joan would have wanted.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is God’s gift. That’s why we call it the present.”

Joan Rivers RIP

Sensored: Invasion of the Body Hackers

12efb2e6091e0a24e2cca740ab7b3e45Every morning on the family smartphone App I get a welcome to the day text message, a blessing and a quick fire Q and A in capital letters and emoticons checking on my vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, blood sugars, platelets, respiration rate, ECG pattern, blood oxygen saturation, pulse and bowel movements.

Later in the day I may get a follow up to check on my progress and the pedometer reading. Help!  I’ve only been able to respond that I have a pulse, am breathing, but I feel a bit hot and bothered now because I haven’t been counting foot falls and I must confess to not having a pedometer on my person or even owning one.

And I simply refuse to confirm or deny whether I’ve had a movement. Some things should stay private and I am very Presbyterian in sharing information, particularly of the personal kind.

These questions are not from my doctor and I have no life and death crisis that I am aware of. They come from my sister-in-law, a real estate agent and former telecommunications engineer, who is genuinely concerned and interested in her own and her family’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and likes to keep track of all of it using the dazzling array of tools available.


Welcome to the age of the body hackers, body trackers, life loggers, auto-analysers, the self-quantifiers who self-measure, monitor, data mine and put under sousveillance (get it: surveillance) every aspect of their daily life.

They’re part of the Quantified Self movement. You might recognise them.

They are the people who are not taking selfies and texting their lunch date across the table to tell them that the food in front of them looks good enough to eat only after a photo of the plate has been sent to thousands of FB and Instagram followers whose day will be so much richer for this missive.

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Which fork do I use? The sensorble one silly!

They are the people who have an array of smartphone Apps at hand at all times to tell them if the lunch dish’s caloric and nutritional contents are in line with the daily target.

They’re looking at their wristwatch gizmo to check that they are breathing and ingesting the right amount of oxygen.

thewellconneThey’re wired with an array of body sensors collecting data on all their vital signs and sequencing their DNA.

Their new wireless wearable sports shirt is beeping to warn them that they may be getting overly aroused, or perhaps just sweating, and that they’d better move indoors as the car that backfired down the street has altered the optimum temperature and air quality.

The wave of new technologies make it just so easy to be narcissistic and self-obsessed at the moment, particularly if you are always fully charged, carry long life batteries and avoid power failures.

We’ve created a generation obsessed with themselves, with short attention spans, terrible spelling and sentence construction, overdosed on reality TV and gladiatorial cooking and home renovation shows (and thinking that Top Gear, Embarrassing Bodies and One Born Every Minute is knowledge).

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This is a generation that craves instant gratification, affirmation and has an unquenchable need for admiration. Thanks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, YouTube and whatever.

We use them, we love them and we hate them for feeding our banal selves.

Now of course, the self quantifiers go beyond the pale to really get to know themselves, inside and out, using the sort of data software once exclusive to research labs, the NASA space probe, sports franchises, state spying and intelligence gathering agencies, Inspector Gadget and enormous global companies with enormous R and D budgets.

But what do they do with all this information they gather about themselves?

There are group meetings where self-quantifiers can go to share all this personal data they collect about themselves over a glass of wine or a soya decaf skinny latte. Prufrock Café is probably a perfect venue for get-togethers and it certainly would not be amiss to measure out attendees’ lives in coffee spoons!


Dress code for self quantifier meeting

New members are always welcome and you just need to check Dr Google to find a chapter near you.

Here’s an example of topics for information sharing at a group meet. Let’s kick off with self experimentation, behaviour monitoring, life logging, life caching and life streaming  which provide a scintillating introduction for novices and new members.

Then we can move on to location tracking – we all have personal and wearable GPS sensors – and get into the physical stuff with digitising body info and biometric data. You’ll need to have an app or device with a good colourful spreadsheet that can provide as much detail as possible, data correlations, data analytics and historical data etc. for easy sharing. The final stage is sharing with the group your own psychological self-assessments, a team talk on medical self-diagnostics and a show and tell of your personal genome sequencing.

It seems to me to be rather pointless to sit down to share what is basically gratuitous information about yourself, gathered from novelty equipment and gadgets you’ve bought on line, with other self-quantifiers since they too are self-interested, have bought their own novelty equipment and gadgets on line and ergo are not really interested in you.

Do they talk to themselves? Or is there some hope that the endless bounds of apparently useless information collected every day may be put to a greater good and make us all better people?


I can only say for myself that there’s a very real chance that we’re losing perspective and being diverted by the ability to capture for all eternity moments in a life that are absolutely of no consequence and add nothing to the sum total of human knowledge.

If you are so busy taking pictures of your life and measuring, monitoring, analysing, logging and sharing every minuscule detail of your existence, behaving more like a pre-programmed robot than a living human being, how do you actually create genuine, lifelong experiences, intimacies, passions, memories, relationships that matter – and make eye contact? Your life will count for nothing.

In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you take, but how many moments can take your breath away.


Something nasty in the woodpile

C-Right-wrongThere was a time when ordinary New Zealanders rejoiced in living in an egalitarian society, comfortable that we all shared the same values and knowing that we looked out for each other.

We liked being a nation of small businesses and big farms, trusted that our banks would always be New Zealand owned, that the St John’s ambulance would come immediately to an emergency 111 call, the police would treat our complaints of a house burglary or of sexual abuse respectfully every time and that politics was an honourable profession.

Most people didn’t know – and probably didn’t care that much – how government and politicians worked, which no doubt correlates to our trusting natures, sense of fair play, decency, honesty, tolerance and celebration of being ordinary.

And once upon a time our Prime Minister, John Key, personified those values. He was one of us, liked and respected because he was so ordinary, so inoffensive, so lacking in vision, philosophy, policy and diction, but admirably rich with overseas business experience ergo really smart and took the tongs at a kiwi barbecue for royals or the wretched press. He was a safe pair of hands and he’d do right by us.

Those were the days my friend. Our world has changed.  Now there’s something nasty in the woodpile and our national apathy and she’ll be right attitude is but cold comfort.

While you may, as ordinary New Zealanders and, if Epsom voters, obey the exhortation by Honest John, not to read Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics, the book has blasted open the door on a vicious, vile, devious and duplicitous world of Machiavellian immorality run by the Nats and seemingly condoned despite the firm protestation by Bill English that these shenanigans were not his “style”.10393455_600x400

Mr Hager is in good company for lifting the lid on this political underbelly.

His book does not have the same global impact or shock, horror revelations as the whistleblowing of Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, nor the Winebox and Watergate.

But we’ve learned and confirmed what we should have known but didn’t want to see: that there’s an official version and there’s the true version, that’s the one not for public consumption, and it beggars belief.

While John Key, in his guise as Mr Nice Guy, has been doing what he does best, spreading the positive stories, kissing babies, charming conservative Remuera matrons who buy his biography, anointing cronies and talking up New Zealand on international golf courses, he’s let himself become surrounded by an orchestra of advisors skilled in the ‘dark arts’, ‘attack’ troupes, his panzer division, formerly known as Judith Collins, and a congress of miscreants spreading dirt.

download (1)Cameron Slater, the author of the Whaleoil blog, recipient of National Party and Beehive inside information, publisher of paid content from lobbyists and guest of an Israeli government-sponsored PR educational, is a titan of venality. He’s a foul-mouthed, giant feral, posturing as a fee fi fo fum power ranger, out for blood and it doesn’t seem to matter whose blood. “Time to let those pricks know they can be got. I want to take out some pollies,” one of his hacked and published emails says.

Mr Key and Team Key are pretty sure that the ordinary New Zealander won’t read the e-mail laden content of the Hager book – only 4000 were published but it’s available on kindle – because he’s not one for reading anything much and he’s pretty sure they’ll be bored.

But it is not the content alone that is the smear the National Party should fear nor should it curse the timing of the publication for derailing its election campaign and leaving policies to rain on deaf ears. It is the undressing of the Prime Minister’s carefully framed public persona.  Mr Nice Guy and his party has been found to be bereft of any moral compass.

10401066_600x400No-one can accuse the Prime Minister of being stupid, or at least so stupid, unobservant or negligent to believe he didn’t know what his officers and advisors were doing.

Even he, a man with only a money-making philosophy, must now know the answer to the age old question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yes Mr Key it does. We ordinary New Zealanders are receiving the message loud and clear and seeing it everywhere, not just whirling like a dervish in the blogosphere.

The first rule of politics is never believe anything until it’s been officially denied. Bismarck said that and look where it got him and Sir Humphrey’ knew how to wrangle his Prime Minister into line and call off the wolf pack when he had a slip up.

Obfuscation, Mr Key, is not going to make the outing of this disgusting and damaging behaviour go away nor is trying to shrug it off as perfectly normal for friends and foes alike to swim in the same political scum.


The Panzer Division, formerly known as Judith Collins

You can try and dismiss the emails as unreliable because they are hacked and the stories they tell as slanted but this defies comprehension when there really is only one possible slant, particularly when the actions of the panzer division, formerly known as Judith Collins, are concerned.

Allegations that this is a left wing conspiracy is really boring and offends the intelligence of ordinary New Zealanders who still think for themselves and won’t be bullied into following National Party advice on tactical voting in blue seat electorates.

Distancing yourself from the obscenity that is Cameron Slater doesn’t cut it either.

Look, we fully empathise with you when you say “at the end of the day, he’s not my guy” (and we know you probably rue the day you met him and correctly judged him as a law unto himself but tolerated him as the son of a blue blood Nat, sponsor and former party president,

It’s not okay to infer it is okay for your loose-cannoned panzer division, formerly known as Judith Collins, to be the “unwise” pimp who provided her mate, Mr Slater with the name and private details of a civil servant he wanted to name and shame as punishment for the leaking of information showing Deputy Prime Minister Bill English had been claiming $700 a week in allowances for living in his own home. The publication on the Whale Oil blog of the man’s contact details resulted in death threats against him and his family. Would it still be okay if the threat had been carried out, Mr Key?

Is it okay in your books for a government servant, even if he is an insider on the ninth floor of the Beehive, working alongside other National Party insiders, to “borrow” information belonging to the Labour Party because they could. Does that mean it is okay to steel the family silver because someone left the back door open and you stepped in? Or do you practice situational ethics?

And why was it okay for you to be so morally outraged that a police complaint was necessary when the media wanted to publish what you and Mr Banks actually said over your cup of tea, which proved it was nothing more than a clumsy, publicity stunt. We right thinking, ordinary New Zealanders call that a double standard.

In fact, National has become a moral hazard – a popular one at that for the time being – but don’t let your smugness make you complacent and platitudinous.

How are we to vote, positive or not, unless not voting means a vote for National by default  – we need team Key to provide credible evidence that it is capable of delivering positive change with inspirational policies and a plan that benefits more than the favoured few.

End of the DayAt the end of the day, Mr Key, you need to earn back our trust with more than hollow words and don’t knows. You are the leader of a party that has acted high handedly and badly and exhibited publicly that the only ship to leak from the top is the ship of state.

We ordinary New Zealanders are disappointed. Your MPs and the legions of advisors, officials, bully boys and girls in the ranks, cronies and muckrakers need more than a pulse to enter the House and the ninth floor. They need to be held to account with a code of conduct that has consequences and public outing if they break it.

It will need to go well beyond swearing self-serving allegiance to their own re-election and re-appointment to positions of power and influence. The parliamentary oath obviously doesn’t hold sway anymore so will the court of public opinion have to sit in judgement more frequently, alertly and noisily to protect transparency and preserve the values we hold so dear and make us New Zealanders?

We’ll be watching you.

Dark Side of the Moon

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For a she’ll be right mate nation, bursting with light and life, how did New Zealanders become so attached to the dark side?

We pride ourselves on being able to do anything, to bat above our weight, knock the bastard off and then shrug off such great achievements as nothing much.

We climbed to the top of the mountain and basked in the sunshine. That was really something and we’ve had lots of moments of standing in the sunshine since, at least until we turned to black. It’s our national colour and schadenfreude our default mind-set. It’s the downside of living in Godzone.

I know it’s hard to find enlightenment, inspiration and guidance, especially from politicians – that beige brigade of faceless, silent names who sit in Parliament, bray and bellow occasionally to justify their pay but are now shaken and stirred to get out and win your vote so they can sit some more.

When I hear lads, laddettes and luddites defining the list of dos and don’ts that make a kiwi dinkum I really am in the dark wondering who we are, what we’re all about and if we have any values.

WhoIdentifiesAsKiwi14 (1)It’s my problem. I need a lightbulb moment because I don’t get how all the surveys show Kiwis as a happy bunch – a bit shy but like really friendly and easy going – and yet our culture is back to back black.

I celebrate with open arms the arrival of new migrants who did not leave their cultures, languages, nationalities, food and creeds at the airport as Winston Peters, he of the double breasted dark suit and finger wagging black wit, instructed or woe betide.

Rather than an apocalypse of the four horsemen Winston, I’m betting that our newest citizens inject energy, light and learning to New Zealand. We may soon have a soccer team worth crowing about, an even better cricket team and win Gold in badminton and table tennis. Best of all we’ll live in a rich and diverse society with new ways of looking at and seeing the world.

But, as one of God’s frozen people from pioneering Presbyterian stock, I cannot hug an Asian a day as our first woman prime minster once over enthusiastically decreed when she was no longer in a position of power and influence but hunting for new positions of power and influence. I have been hugging an Asian a day for decades. He’s my husband. He’s one of us!

I am a native English speaker, have rounded vowels, more aye that oy so now am unsuited to radio and use full sentences and syntax.

I am desperately interested in global current affairs that go beyond who’s bonking whom and I was born here. That is not a requirement for citizenship which is quite easy to attain when you have the dough and hire a PR to buy friends for you in high places and who can speak for you because you don’t speak English.

6a00d83451d75d69e20167627bb94f970b-800wiHowever, remember as the new boy on the block, even if you now own the entire block, it is a no no for any Chinese to buy dairy farms.

There’s no law against it and absolutely no racism or xenophobia about foreigners buying natural assets outright if you are not Chinese.

You just have to understand that two Wongs do not make it right but it would be alright for Mr Wright.

I am not some wretched nouvel existentialist who has just discovered Camus or Nietzsche. I am not searching for the doorway at Delphi where the Oracle inscribed ‘Know Thyself’ while under the influence of some mind-altering hallucinogenic.

Nor am I a despondent tall poppy who thinks I know better, and because I have done my OE via Earls Court, and my liver has survived the rights of passage pilgrimage of the top spots of Europe drinking, bull running and tomato throwing festivals by kombi van (purchased in Earls Court), I have carte blanche to be broody and whinge and obnoxiously forward in counting all the ways that New Zealand fails the litmus test of being up with the rest of the world.

It doesn’t suit my nature to constantly knock, belittle and begrudge others. I’m not interested in joining harbingers of doom, gloom and the ‘yes but’ nay sayers. And I know I don’t want to emulate the national identity our artists, writers, musicians and political and sports commentators promote of New Zealand as the land of the long, black cloud – with gorgeous scenery and bungees to spruik up the heaven on earth environment so tourists will like us.

I’m rather desperate to escape that. I am going to embrace, even celebrate, the diversity of my perversity with not a black thought, black head or black dog in sight. I am going to be little Miss Sunshine.

download (3)True confession: rugby is not my religion. I do not sink into depression when the ABs lose a test. I am not worried about Dan’s groin strain though Richie’s foot was of concern. My child did not wear baby black jerseys, suck an All Blacks’ dummy nor learn to kick a ball as a toddler as the legend goes. Sports channels are not part of my Sky package. The Arts, History and Rialto channels are.

I like many things and if rugby is your thing, you are welcome to it.

I do not think Sir Russell Coutts a black heart for winning the America’s Cup – five times in all. He was simply the best. He had the best technology, used it to the best advantage and had the best team who did not give up or choke but beat the odds and won.

images (5)

A Black Day

images (4)

Not a Black Day

We choked and lost. But we did our best – unfortunately it was second best – and we’ll be remembered in the annals of sporting history as the team that seized defeat from the jaws of certain victory.

It wasn’t our fault of course. We were overcome by a big boy with big toys even though millions of dollars from private and tax payer sponsors got TNZ to the starting line.

Doing well with bugger all is entrenched in our psyche. We treasure our Number 8 wire quick fix with what’s closest at hand mentality. Mate, that was admirable in pioneering days but we need to grow up.


Improvisation does not cut it anymore. We need genuine innovation if we are to see the light of day.

New Zealand has a big black mark against it with one of the lowest rates of patent registrations in the OECD. We spend only a little more than 1.0% of gross GDP on research and development and our economy is skewed so dangerously to primary commodity exports that when the milk price slumps so do we.

If we want to get back to black and increase employment and productivity we have to have products and services that are commercial, scalable and replicable – not just admirable. And we’re clever enough to rise to that challenge.

“Everyone’s good at something, and in our country, it’s rugby and being glum,” wrote blogger and columnist Rose Hoare. That’s tragic but you can see it for yourself in our art and “dark forbidding” painters like Colin McCahon, Tony Fomison, Ralph Hotere and Philip Clairmont.

I don’t revere or for that matter revile Colin McCahon’s paintings. Dad went to primary school with him and said he was a “queer boy”. I thought he meant he was the “God Boy” – that kid who stuck his feet in a steaming cow pat to warm them up on the way to school. It was the best bit of the whole story by Ian Cross.


McCahon’s works leave me cold and uninspired. I can’t see The Promised Land in his paintings and I just can’t believe that any other country in the world would endlessly celebrate an artist who frankly was so depressing, dark and bleak.

Our films and our literature are also perversely dark.

You can tell a New Zealand film because it always rains and has a sad ending – except for Sione’s Wedding which I really liked.  Can we move on from this enervating cinema of unease please with comedies that make the hero a victim and dramas that are riddled with expletive dialogue and excessive violence to bring to life the dark underbelly of our society.

And then there’s our novelists. Oh happy day! I wish! I think Maurice Gee novels should be sold with a warning to slit your wrists before you start reading. You’ll wish you had by the end of one of his depressing liturgies of a woeful family going from bad to worse to end with the little lost boy left to die in an abandoned fridge.

I couldn’t finish Keri Hulme’s Bone People. Must be my thing about whole sentences and grammar and punctuation. I suggest she takes the publisher’s advance and sticks to white-baiting.

luminaries_front__24777__23200.1364428630.1280.1280-194x300As for The Luminaries that was 800 pages of my life I won’t get back.

I was delighted to find I was not alone. I met a stranger in the street. She too did not enjoy this weighty, over structured, tell all tome. We embraced and are friends for life. We’ll also stick up for the males aged over 45 branded by Eleanor Catton as bullies for not liking her book and invite the London Evening Standard reviewer to be guest speaker at our select and exclusive book club.


“You know what it’s like when you find a book you really can’t put down? One that seems so urgent to stay with you carry on reading when you should be sleeping or working or remembering your Tube stop? A book that seems more compelling than life itself? Such a great feeling!” he wrote. “Well, Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning 832-pager, The Luminaries, is the opposite — in my experience, anyway.”

There’s also a whole genre of ‘black’ music that has made a killing out of depression, pessimism and sadness. The Dunedin sound is the very antithesis of Ten Guitars and the Maori show bands and strikes no chord with the uplifting and soulful poetry of American black blues, swing and jazz.

download (1)Now we have Lorde and her tortured performances.  She’s a true fashion icon from her mane of black hair, black nails and lips to her black dresses – a tribute to Paint it Black (which was written for a funeral and adopted by the New Zealand Rugby Union as the anthem for a disastrous World Cup outing).

Chanel really knew how to channel black.

We have Zambesi and Nom D, the all blacks of fashion, latterly smudging the palette with concrete, swamp and overcast.

Apparently Zambesi captures an intellectual, brooding, angsty, moody aesthetic with its no frills black ‘statements’. What do you think? I am thinking really really hard to wear deconstructionism when you want to walk, talk or sit.

4158968 I think Kiwi fashionistas are much more black and white.

Black is really practical and sensible (just like our clumpy shoes). Unlike white, black doesn’t show dirt and you can wear it for every occasion, day in and day out, from dawn to dusk, ad infinitum.

It’s no wonder that visitors to New Zealand think we are in mourning when they meet the locals dressed head to toe in funeral black, or fifty shades of grey, with a joyless demeanour to match.

Lighten up guys. Don’t fret about fitting in. Stop trying to find the dark side of the moon – there isn’t one.

We’re a gay rainbow nation now and the world loves us for it.

For sale: Unique Remvance, Tuscanelle, Scandi chic gentleman’s residence. Must be seen to be believed   

I look forward to Saturday mornings, the lie-in under the duvet, long black in hand, the cat sitting on the dresser, tail sweeping the china and that sense of virtue that I’ve been to pilates every morning this week and deserve to have time to do nothing.

My real treat is the weekend newspaper, served with just a sprinkling of news, like sesame seeds on a bagel, dropped between the advertisements. It’s the property section that I go for. I love a good laugh and the homes for sale stories never fail to deliver.

It’s not writing as in journalism, of course, just as Tony Blair’s memoir, “A Journey” is not biography but crime! It is grate journalism, advertorial, full blown spin.

The homes for sale feature writers have stretch and grow imaginations and a lexicon of ever ready descriptive clichés to turn reality into make believe. They take a leaf from the classic fictions created by legions of linguistically-challenged real estate agents who can at the press of a button download copycat phrases with to reel in a discerning buyer. It’s a hoot. Here’s an example:


The Copy Cat Phrase Finder is a real estate copywriting tool that removes the burden of producing dynamic, creative copy for your real estate ads

 THIS IS THE LIFE! It won’t be easy to click out of holiday mode in this stylishly contemporary residence for the modern pleasure-seeker.Cool, calm and sophisticated with a youthful edge, this functional home is enveloped in light and comfort. Crisp white walls, timber floors and high ceilings create a style as timeless as the sparkling ocean view. The calming sea vista, captured through the extensive use of glass, will help you forget your city stress. This house screams ‘designer’ and will reflect the personality and taste of those accustomed to the best in quality design, finishes and lifestyle


See earlier post: The Layman’s Lexicon to Real Estate Copywriting for help interpreting real estate house for sale writing. e.g.

Up-and-coming area – might not be horrible in a decade’s time

Increasingly popular area – horrible, but lots of people are as desperate as you

Great for young families – bare earth; school and playground should be finished by the time thee kids are at university if the developer gets his bridging funds

Popular area – you can’t afford to live here

Sought-after location – only rich migrants can afford to live here

Deceptively spacious – not spacious

Cosy, cute as a button – too small for your large screened tv

Perfectly sized – humans can barely fit in this. Fine for Hobbits

Bijou – humans cannot fit in this

Compact- cats cannot fit in this

Charming – doesn’t have stairs but extra pole

Quaint – doesn’t have windows or doors

Rustic- doesn’t have a roof

Indoor-outdoor flow – has front and back doors

Real life examples from the dancing fingers of the creative power house sales writer demonstrates how well they have honed their art and craft. Those  opening gambits, generally recurring variations on a theme, are really captivating and you can follow them now with your handy lexicon.

  • The Penny Dreadful: “Tim and Penny are selling their house because an opportunity arose to buy a unique home they had admired for many years. They’ll miss their house but are pleased to still be staying in Mt Eden. “It’s got everything you need for a family — I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” says Penny.” Really Penny? You are moving to a more expensive or cheaper house down the road.
  • The community social responsibility and public good philanthropic seller who reluctantly realises that “now the family has flown the coop, it is time to move on and let another family pick up the mantle (piece?) of this splendid residence that has seen so many happy times.” Do you think I am stupid? You’re downsizing, divorcing, selling a deceased estate or retiring.
  • The contented fellow who knows his place. “Meet Gerald, the homeowner. When Gerald puts his key into the lock and steps inside he knows he is home.” Good for you. That name and address tag safety-pinned to your jacket is working. Your wife will be pleased and you will move to that posher house in a better school zone near to the pilates studio.

I love the way the house for sale writer takes the ordinary and transports us to the extraordinary with enticing headlines and descriptions that ensure there is no place like home.

The house becomes not just a castle, but a costalotta, an Italianite, rococo revival, a Balinese resort away from it all, a tropical spa retreat with more hints of Bali (subdivision with palm trees), a private gated family compound (subdivision with lookalike housing), an adventure playground you’ll never have to leave (retirement village), a cliff top haven (for those aspiring to new heights), a modernist minimalist gem, a mid-century retro designer dream, a Scandi chic townhouse, mews, apartment, bijou, jewel or a  stately manor, an executive home, a gentleman’s residence, a villa makeover that shouts “sophisticated synergy” and “a work of art”.

But some descriptions are simply not a patch on the real thing. This listing is for a gang headquarters.

This well-known property is set up for family and club gatherings but could be converted back to its former glory. The brightly coloured fences provide privacy and security and the large section with mature trees provide shelter where friends and family can gather for social occasions. There is ample off-street parking. Ignore its colourful history; this property is in need of an urgent sale. The home has three double bedrooms, a laundry, bathroom, standard kitchen and lounge that is heated by a fire unit. It is, however, in need of a “little TLC”.

urban delight villa

This fantastic light-filled villa is a home that truly takes sophisticated chic to a whole new level…. Seamlessly blending the ornate features with modern simplicity this seriously stylish villa boasts three double bedrooms (master with ensuite), the luxury of a spa-like bathroom and separate lounge/media room, high ceilings and glistening dark polished floors. The entertainer in you will be thoroughly spoilt with the gourmet kitchen and the voluminous open living space; slide back the living room doors to the wide sun-drenched deck area and outdoors complete with elegant landscaping and thoughtful plantings fringing the level lush lawn… the perfect social venue for year round hospitality. With two car parking the picture is complete.”

I wonder if that’s any more misleading than what “sophisticated synergy” looks like when it is for  sale.

Taste is subjective but letting loose with no taste, tips from house makeover tv sophisticated synergycontests and a free app from the local DIY, instant kitchen, bathroom and paving retail chain will kill the villa or at least leave it dieing.

How can anyone subjugate a wooden villa, the kitset, lace trimmed, lead lighted, character houses of Edwardian days into marvels of blinding blandness and acres of sterile white on white in homage to operating theatres. It’s renovation by anaesthesia! If only city hall officers and planners  were as voracious in tackling heritage wreckers instead of hapless carparkers.

I look at the blanding of suburbs and maiming of heritage houses not as a tribute to indoor outdoor flow but as vandalism by the desperate to own a house at any price newlywed with unfortunately a nearly dead conformity in their complete lack of respect or empathy for the products they have purchased.

What-Do-New-Home-Buyers-Want American dream

If they want an apartment buy one.

If they want Scandinavian minimalism get a good architect and build it.

If they believe there is no such thing as less, live your own fantasy and find a carpotect.

But why butcher a villa and leave it with an identity crisis for a new generation of homeowners to work out what ‘sophisticated synergy’ meant.

New Zealand is a little country with little history and little taste, a love of quick fixes and short cuts – better known as DIY or number 8 wire innovation. Cheap is good.

We have so little left of any architectural merit and easily tear down the old and classic with reckless disregard, especially if it really needs TLC and sympathetic and often expensive restoration like Canterbury cathedral. Imagine Britain if a brash Kiwi had been in charge of rebuilding after WWII.


….and it glows in the dark

We replace history, heritage and beauty with works of singular vulgarity or ugliness.

We stick a container, a bungalow or a barn on on top of a tall building or important public building and say it reflects our character.  We opt for the quirky like the Beehive, a cruel joke for a parliament house and window cleaners, or put up the Vero Tower in Auckland city where the architect forgot to put the toilet seat down when he’d finished.

No wonder architects and builders seldom advertise that they are the ones on the job at construction sites. They need to be named – and shamed – and for that matter we should name and praise those rare instances of projects that are jewels of urban renewal, regeneration and genius .

Meanwhile I’ll just settle on a designer home.

Better home and living everyone

designer home

The Layman’s Lexicon to Real Estate Copywriting

Many thanks to the experts, enthusiasts and wary home buyers who have learned the real meaning of real estate prose to contribute to this handy guide

Early viewing recommended –  it’s gone already

An exciting opportunity has arisen – in shock news, we have a house available

Recommended viewing – the pictures are horrible, aren’t they?the fertility room

Priced to sell – I’m getting sacked if this doesn’t sell

Up-and-coming area – might not be horrible in a decade’s time

Increasingly popular area – horrible, but lots of people are as desperate as you

Great for young families – bare earth; school and playground should be finished by the time thee kids are at university if the developer gets his bridging funds

Popular area – you can’t afford to live here

Sought-after location – only rich migrants can afford to live here

Deceptively spacious – not spacious

Cosy, cute as a button – too small for your large screened tv

Perfectly sized – humans can barely fit in this. Fine for Hobbitsis this a toiletsitter rather than a bedsitter

Bijou – humans cannot fit in this

Compact- cats cannot fit in this

Charming – doesn’t have stairs but extra pole and step ladder

Quaint – doesn’t have windows or doors

Rustic- doesn’t have a roof

Indoor-outdoor flow – has front and back doors

Mature garden – large gum tree dominates outside; needs felling before it fells the house

Bright and sunny – no trees, no flowers, no curtains, glare from concrete and motorway lights

Fully fitted kitchen -good, you won’t need to provide your own sink and the wall oven is so high it’s never been used

WC / bathroom/ensuites – there’s a toilet, but we call it a WC because it makes it sound slightly more upmarket than just us saying the word toilet but no ventilation Great view – you can see it every time you sit on the WC / toilet

Elegantly proportioned – all the rooms are as small as each other

Great use of space – no idea how they managed to fit a bed in there

Three bedrooms –two singles at a pinch and at a squeeze you can sleep sideways in there

A building with a lot of history – you mean it was a gang house? Is that blood?don't mind the horse, he doesn't eat muchjpg

Full of character – full of mice or mould or a hungry horse

Superbly presented – P lab’s decontaminated, stuck some daffodils in a jug,vacuumed, got home staging company in and borrowed the brown ‘designer’ sofa from the open home next door

Studio apartment – sounds better than a flat

Studio apartment – bed in the kitchen, next to the toilet

Studio apartment – cupboard

Split-level studio apartment – there’s a bunk beddesigner 2 home

Mezzanine sleeping area – shelf with a mattress

Designer home – not quite what I had in mind

Architect – went to university

Carpotect – builder who played with lego

Boasts – has

Benefits from – has

Comprises of – has

Full of surprises – feature pillars suddenly appear. Are they keeping the building up?

Easy access into the city – it’s not in the city

Close to transport – House is beside the railway lines; horse available

Ideal for first-time buyers  – hello suckers have I got a deal for you?

Unique Design – it was designed by MC Escher and decorated by a psychopath

Original features – nothing has ever been repaired

Minimalist – basically a hollow shellbathroom2

Modernist – the walls are at right angles

Neoclassical – no idea what this means but it sounds fancy

Classical – Italian, Roman, Louis XVI, Egyptian

Art deco – nope, not a clue but its roughcast

Rococo – we just like the sound of this and rich migrants might like it

Bauhaus – I’ve got one of their albums somewhere I think

Well appointed  – yeah, we’re just saying random words now