My very first column
Fairfax Media have insisted that all their contributors sign a new contract. Unfortunately, this means I can't post Grey Urbanist columns here ... until 3 months after publication in the Nelson Mail.
Dread began stalking me as soon as I agreed to write a column for the Nelson Mail and on the eve of deadline, it had me firmly between its jaws. A large part of this dread originates in that fact that my column will appear in the very spot recently vacated by Teresa O'Connor. She has left behind very large shoes to fill although her feet are, in actuality, remarkably small. However, like Ms O'Connor my predecessor, I've got Irish forbears and the Irish proverb "What is nearest the heart is nearest the mouth" applies to us both. I'm just as maddened as she is by foolish bureaucracy, by venality and injustice. And I’m just as moved by small, unheralded acts of generosity and kindness: the grace moments of everyday life.
Apparently, something like 100,000 thoughts pass through the human mind each day. That’s a lot of through-traffic even if 90% of the thoughts are pedestrian in the extreme. Where’s my other sock? What’s the time? I’m dying for a cup of tea. Must put toothpaste on the shopping list. That kind of thing. Over and over and over.
Unsettled, restless, capricious, whimsical, fanciful,inconstant, confused, indecisive and uncontrollable. This, said the Buddha, is the nature of the human mind.
It’s like a monkey swinging through the trees which “grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another” He called this unceasing, undisciplined flow of thoughts Monkey Mind.
The clock is ticking ominously. It’s eleven thirty on Sunday night. This column is due first thing Monday morning and all I have on the screen in front of me is an unruly assemblage of paragraphs gasping for C.P.R. I’ve just polished off a bowl of apple crumble with whipped cream in an attempt to soothe my ragged nerves. They remain ragged. I know how this sounds. You think it’s the result of lazy procrastination don’t you? It’s not. Honestly. This is what happened.
In 1936 women are mostly employed applauding their men or demonstrating domestic bliss. “Oh Tom!” swoons one ecstatic wife “I’m so proud of you, you've gone ahead so fast in Radio!” Another kneels helpfully at her husband’s feet demonstrating the effectiveness of a purse-sized trouser press.
I arrive back from my search for Motel El Dorado to discover that the trellis in the back yard is now dangling by a thread. As my minimalist toolbox contains just a hammer and a bread knife, I seek a low tech solution to the trellis problem by unearthing the March 1936 issue of Popular Mechanix & Inventions magazine bought at a long ago garage sale.
Sixty-seven years after publication it seems both dated and strangely current: the world is struggling to recover from a world-wide depression; U.S. unemployment hovers at 20%; the President (Roosevelt) is about to announce a $5 billion rescue package; nasty dictators (Hitler and Mussolini) are on the rise; new technologies are threatening old industries while giving birth to new. In spite of it all, this issue of Popular Mechanix is ablaze with optimism: “the future is the brightest that ever beckoned a man!”
Steve Braunias couldn’t have devised a more Braunian setting into which to invite 23 hopeful scribblers for a workshop on writing nonfiction. The man specialises in writing “fascinating - and sometimes disturbing – stories … about people … their lives, loves, aspirations, and dark secrets” in small-town New Zealand. The Motueka Municipal Band Hall is so quintessentially Braunain that it’s hard to escape the feeling that it’s all a sly joke which he’s playing at our expense.
Steve Braunias, looks completely at home in the Hall though it’s marooned in an ocean of bitumen at the butt-ugly rear of the Recreation Centre in Wharf Road. The carpet features lurid orange scroll-work writhing over a swampy green background and poses a risk to those inclined to migraine.
The Spartan kitchen is full of slightly despairing notes. “Please check Hot Tap is turned OFF” asks the note curled damply above the sink. The note on the fridge begs “Please. Please Do NOT Turn this fridge off at the wall. Leave fridge on and door closed, or it will start to smell & go mouldy”.
A note taped in the foyer hints at dark internecine rivalry “This blue vacuum cleaner belongs to the Pipe Band Hall” it reads,”NOT BRASS: DO NOT put in the Storeroom. Thank you.”
Each year thousands of pilgrims, or “People of the Book” as they are known, join the pilgrimage to place called Founders Park, where under the welcoming arms of a giant windmill, they come in search of books, relics of an almost bygone age. Some come hoping to find enlightenment, succour, and revelation within the relics. Others wish merely for some hints on growing roses or the autograph of an All Black scribbled on a flyleaf.
Nelson’s famous annual pilgrimage has begun. Every year, during the cold, bitter days which mark the birth of Queen Elizabeth II of England, thousands of pilgrims, young and old, abandon the comfort of home and hearth to walk the Peregrinatio Ad Libros.
Clad simply and modestly in warm jackets, woolly hats, and sturdy footwear they come from all points of the compass, holding in gloved hands the empty bag which is the symbol of the pilgrimage. The Peregrinatio Ad Libros, a sort of Antipodean Camino Way, dates from the last quarter of the 20th century, a time when e-books and digital content were completely unknown. Words then, were printed on sheets of paper which were bound together to make “books” and “magazine” and “newspapers”.
Given that my poor teeth are only held together with gobs of amalgam, I really should not, ever, gnash them. However, sometimes gnashing (and possibly wailing) is the only proper response to extreme provocation. Take last Friday for example.
I got up, after an only mildly insomniac night, to a gorgeous autumn morning and ingested my first two tablets of the day, before toasting a slightly aged Easter bun for breakfast.
Several vast mugs of tea and another tablet later, confident of a pain-free day thanks to modern pharmaceuticals, I drove to the Positive Aging Expo at the Headingly Centre in Richmond. Welcomed at the entrance by the cheerful strains of an electronic organ, I joined the throng which ambulated, Zimmered or were wheeled along the aisles of products and services on display. Only God knows what combination and quantity of pharmaceuticals there were circulating in our collective veins but we were all terribly upbeat in spite of the fact that everything on display - with the possible exception of the “Miracle Chopping Board” and the model train, screams ill health, infirmity and decline.
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