For the past 6 months my cell number has been mistaken for that of a drug user/dealer/possible gang member

For the past six months my cell number has been mistaken for that of a drug user/dealer/possible gang member. It’s been quite a ride.

It wasn’t long after I moved back to Hamilton from an 18-month stint in Northern Ireland (I moved there for the weather and stayed for the sectarian violence) and acquired a new, local cell number from Vodafone that the text messages started.

At first it was innocent enough, at least that’s what I thought.

”Did the boots fit you bro? If not what size are they?’‘ was the first one, sent late on Saturday night as I was about to tuck myself and my three little boys into bed.

”Oh dear,” I thought. ”Two mates, probably tradies, have gone shopping together for work boots and probably bought a pair on sale and one mate is checking with the other to see if they fit. What a good friend! Gosh, I am so glad to be back in New Zealand where men do things like go boot shopping together on a Saturday.”

So I replied.

”Oh, sorry, wrong number,” I said. ‘‘But I hope you get your boot size sorted out!”. I think I may have even used an emoji.

There was no reply but I figured they were just embarrassed they had send their message to the wrong number and being typical blokes didn’t reply with a ”Sorry, ha ha!” like I usually would.

Over the weeks more texts followed.

”You up cuz?” – that came one Tuesday about 4pm, I can only assume they meant, ‘are you up’ as in ‘are you out of bed and ready to start your day”.

It was the same number as Mr Shoe Shopper and I thought ‘Oh, poor guy hasn’t updated his contacts and doesn’t realise this isn’t his mate’s number’ so I replied – with another emoji – with some of my top shelf Mum Humour.

”I’ve been up since 4am, and that was a late start for me!”

There was again no reply but maybe I inspired him to put in some long hours of his own because about 12 hours later came this:

”You been drinking cuz? Can you come get me?”

And at 5am: ”Are you sober?”

My mystery messenger went quiet for a while after that – possibly sleeping off the world’s biggest hangover – but he soon returned, and with an updated resume.

”New stockz (sic) back in biz, green and bagz,” announced one message.

”On for 2nite only msg b4 1am 4 delivery,” said another.

I studied the messages. It was clear he wasn’t talking about shopping for boots anymore. I began to suspect that my friend hadn’t ever really been shopping for shoes and maybe it was a code for something and googled ”Are boots a code for drugs?” and found out that yet is was. So was ”baby” and ”chocolate” and ”Kate Bush” and that’s like basically the three phrases I use more than any other and I began to get paranoid someone had overheard me at the playground talking to my kids and thought I was some sort of drug king pin.

”Oh my god,” I thought to myself, ”do they realise they might come across as though they are talking about drugs?”

I went and made a cup of tea – and yes, that’s another code – and it dawned on me.

”I think they may be selling drugs,” I said to the cat. She turned and walked outside to stand guard by her patch of catnip growing by the chicken coop.

JeffSpicoli
I don’t know what gave it away.

I didn’t know what to do and wrung my hands and re-read some of the messages, wondered for a while if it was actually harder to type ”2nite” instead of ”tonight” on a iPhone (it is) and then decided it would be best to ignore the messages and hoped they stopped coming. The thought of changing my number did cross my mind, but I have three boys three and under, zero time and about a million places my number was listed as the ”In case of emergency with my kids or cats please call this number immediately”. Getting a new one wasn’t a feasible option.

I wouldn’t get a text message for weeks at a time. I presumed the heat was on them or maybe they ran out of stuff to sell or whatever happens to your modern day drug dealer but in my mind I pictured them on some flash holiday somewhere warm, perhaps with a jet ski, partying with Justin Bieber and a giant python named Blondie.

But, like a casually racist comment from a Republican senator during a late night twitter exchange, they were never far away.

”What u up to mate u know any might b after some 6x9s for $30 got blocks and covers on them 490 watt jvc”.

”Hey mate just letting ya know we back up n running if your on the hunt”.

I was tempted to order something just so they could pick me up a couple of bottles of blue top milk and a loaf of bread from the dairy on their way over, reasoning it would still be cheaper than using Countdown’s home delivery service.

Christmas seemed a particularly busy time for them, they worked up until Christmas Eve, and took a couple of days off before New Year’s Eve.

”Few hours late but getting there now happy new years hope it was a good one n alls well”.

It was the only text message I got wishing me a happy new year.

He was back at it this week, with this:

”Hey we back in business just doing 20 tins this time round, sticky as tell all your friend lol”.

”Tin, what’s a tin?” I said to my husband. ”Do they put something in a tin for you? Why is it sticky? What is sticky?”

Then the toddler heard me say ”sticky” and thought someone was coming over to bring him a lollipop and then one of the babies was sick on the floor again and the other one crawled over and bit my hand and I started to think this is why there’s probably such a growth industry in pyscho-tropic drugs these days.

I expect I shall continue to hear from my little friend until their, ahem, personal circumstances change.

They don’t sound like they are in a hurry to change jobs, in fact they sound like they are having a bloody great time with their lot right now and I’ve never met a drug dealer in New Zealand but the one on the other end of my phone is quite jovial. I’ve probably passed them in the aisles at Countdown when they’ve been in to grab a few hundred rolls of tin foil and a couple of bags of corn chips and salsa.

So thank you, my mystery messenger, for keeping this housewife company over the past six months or so.

Stay out of trouble.

Andrew King and Hamilton Gardens? I smell a rat.

When it comes to Hamilton Mayor Andrew King’s plan for Hamilton Gardens I smell a rat.

Late last week the newly-elected Mayor sprung on an unsuspecting public, not to mention fellow councillors, his plan to whack a $25 entry fee on the currently free Hamilton Gardens. The entry fee would be paid by all ‘non-residents’, he said, which means anyone not living within the comparatively small Hamilton City Council boundary.

Mayor King defended his plan – which he notably never mentioned once during his recent election campaign – by arguing the gardens were getting too popular for their own good, visitor numbers needed to be reduced, and that cash was needed to pay for the vague ‘stage two’ of the gardens’ redevelopment, of which no official plans, designs or approvals thus far exist (they are slated for completion in 2024).

Not surprisingly the Mayor’s plan was met with anger and condemnation across Hamilton and the greater Waikato. And across the country and overseas previous (and potential future) visitors said an entry fee would stop them from visiting the award-winning gardens.

Days after his shock announcement Mayor King had to face a council meeting and explain his $25 fee (“I compared it to what you would pay to get into London’s Kew Gardens”) and why it was, in his words, so desperately needed.

KingandMacindoe
Mayor Andrew King, right, and local conservative politician Tim Macindoe.

The four new gardens planned to be finished by 2018 at a cost of a little of $7 million have already been paid for, the money coming from various sources including a lottery grant, donations, and a targeted rate of $10 per property a year for four years. Those gardens are known as stage one. International consultant Horwath HTL estimates the $7 million investment in the next stage of the Gardens will be returned in three years.

Mayor King says an entry fee is needed to complete stage two of the gardens, the designs of which the public has not seen, nor have been drawn up. If there are estimates of the total cost, they are not in the public realm.

But back to the rat.

When asked this week if the entry fee would be listed once, hypothetically speaking, the stage two gardens had been built, Mayor King told his councillors: “Well, that would be for the council of the day to decide and I won’t be here then”.

Sot is it really Mayor King’s intention to gouge visitors with a $25 entry fee? Perhaps it is. He’s certainly not on the lower end of the socio-economic scale of things. To him $25 is money that wouldn’t be missed from his wallet, unlike the tens of thousands of Waikato families who would be forced to pay such a whopping amount for the simple act of taking their children to see gardens.

But perhaps Mayor King had already considered the outcome of $25 being shouted down when he raised the idea, and had it in his mind to lower his proposed fee, say to $5 or $10, and appear to be a man of the people, a man who listens to the public’s concerns but still gets things done.

Don’t be surprised if the report that has now been ordered by Hamilton Council on the viability of the gardens and the logistics of an entry fee comes back with either a recommendation for an entry fee or the idea to charge for car parking at the gardens.

So we know the cost of the next stage of development of Hamilton Gardens has already been covered. So why does Mayor King – head of the NZ Property Investors Federation – insist we need the entry fee? It is because he wants to shift the day-to-day running cost away from Hamilton Council? An entry fee certainly would do that, freeing up money for Mayor King’s real passion of “churning out sections” (his words, not mine).

And what is the bet that, if introduced, the entry fee would increase over the years. We must all fight as best we can to keep the wolf from the door and say so to an entry fee, no matter how big or small. It’s a slippery slope and once a fee is introduced it will only become more and more expensive as time goes on.

The cruel irony is Hamilton Gardens already pay for themselves via economic return to Hamilton. They have been built and paid for through donations and rates and sheer grit and determination by generations of Hamiltonians.

To us, it is impossible to stomach Mayor King’s plan to put a price on them because we know the one thing he appears to fail to realise: that the Hamilton Gardens are priceless. And they are ours.

A letter to my three sons, on International Women’s Day

To my three beautiful sons, on International Women’s Day, there are so many things you will come to learn in your lives. Things about the world, about how unfair life can be, about love and disappointment and joy and how your mama is still a better reverse parker than your dad.

But above and beyond all that, you will learn about women. One made all three of you (twins Tommy and Henry at the same time!) and women will always be in your lives in one way or another.

My job as a mother is to teach you, to help you learn about so many things. These are the things you need to know about women.

As mentioned, a woman brought you into this world. Every person walking this planet is here because a woman made the ultimate sacrifice and grew them for up to nine months IN HER TUMMY and then had to get them back out again. That should automatically command a lifetime of respect and a good measure of awe.

If you ever wonder why you should give up your seat on the bus to a woman have a think about what her insides can do and if you still don’t think she’s earned the right to sit down over you then come and talk to me and we can go over the day you were born again. With photos.

Women are stronger than you will ever know so never think of us as the weaker sex. Again, if you ever need proof, I can go over the days you were born. I may even show you the scar from when I walked into an operating theatre, lifted my Topshop dress up above my waist, had my stomach sliced open and had two babies pulled out.

Feminism is not a dirty word. Being a feminist is not about hating men, although god knows you will hear that tripe from all sorts over the years – godawful and predictable female newspaper columnists are repeat offenders. Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. If you have a problem with that then our next Christmas lunch is going to be fun.

ReceptionColour-50
Tommy, Charlie and Henry.
Women get a rough deal, right from the get go. Often their very birth causes grief for a family who want a son to ‘carry on the family name’ or go to work on the family farm or god knows what it is that people expect sons to bring or do that girls can’t. They go through school hearing ‘you run like a girl’ being used as an insult, they are discouraged from studying ‘boy subjects’ like woodworking or engineering.

When they get a job chances are they will one day end up being paid less than their male colleagues for doing the same role (the pay gap exists, don’t let people tell you otherwise) and then if they get pregnant they have to at the very least put their career on hold for a long time.

Women live in a world where men decide what they can and can’t do with their own bodies, a world where politicians tell us we are not as intelligient as men, where clubs don’t let us become members.

I remember bumping my pram into an opening elevator door at a hospital and a man inside the elevator laughed and said ‘typical woman driver’. I should have screamed at him ‘I JUST GREW A HUMAN INSIDE ME AND PUSHED IT BACK OUT YOU ABSOLUTE DICKHEAD’. but I didn’t. We hear it so many times we sadly learn to ignore it.

The cards aren’t stacked in our favour, ever. Know it, even if you can’t do anything about it, just know it. And never ignore it.

You will never know what it’s like to live in fear every day of being attacked by a man. Thank christ you won’t. But our fear is real. Never harm, threaten or intimidate a woman, even in the smallest way. Help break the cycle.

Don’t ever walk into a bathroom when a woman is having a shower. That’s our sacred time. We don’t care that you need to brush your teeth or have a shave or grab your contact lenses. Just don’t.

We say that we don’t want flowers but we really do. Even when we say that no we really don’t and please don’t waste your money and I will be really cross if you do get me flowers. Just buy the flowers.

Women are allowed to wear whatever the hell they goddam want. We’ve fought for the right to vote, to be counted in a census, for our husbands not be legally able to claim our bodies as theirs, so WE ARE NOT GOING TO BE TOLD WHAT WE CAN AND CAN’T WEAR. Same goes for makeup. If I ever catch you telling a woman she looks washed out and can do with a bit of lipstick I will dig out the photos of you when you were little and would dig through my cosmetics bag and use all my very expensive Benefit bronzing powder and lip liner.

And while we are at it a woman wearing a short skirt or a low cut top is not looking to be sexually assaulted or hit on or wolf whistled at. A woman’s size does not dictate what she should or should not wear. You will never live a life where you feel under constant pressure to be a certain shape or have your body “bounce back” after having a baby or be “beach ready”. EVERY woman is beautiful. Know, say it, love it.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where people are thinking it’s a good idea to get a woman in and pay her to take her clothes of (yes, a stripper, don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean) turn around and walk out and don’t ever look back. Drag your brothers out if they are there with you. It is not cool to exploit women like that. Same for strip clubs. If you can’t have a good night out without it ending in paying women to take their clothes off for you then maybe, I don’t know, try bridge or snooker or something.

Little girls don’t dream of growing up to be pawed at by drunk men while being made to take their clothes off for cash. Sometimes women have got to do certain things to pay the bills or other reasons. Don’t judge. Try and help create a world where stripping doesn’t have to be an option.

Learn to cook. Doesn’t matter who you end up with. Just learn to cook and cook for a woman in your life at least once a week.

And above and beyond all else, my beautiful, beautiful boys, be kind to women. As you can see we have it tough a lot of the times. But we are the creators of life, the nurturers. Some of us give up our jobs, our careers, our freedom, to raise families. Every day there are men, lawmakers, politicians, members of churches, telling us what to do and what we’ve done wrong. We’ve never truly been given the chance to run things and I bet if we did we wouldn’t have the god awful mess in the world we do now. It gets under our skin, I promise you that.

So, if nothing else, be kind to us. I think we deserve at least that.

OPINION: Don’t shut the gate on Hamilton Gardens

When I moved to Hamilton, New Zealand, from Sydney in 2011 the first place I was taken to was Hamilton Gardens and as soon as I took one look I knew I never wanted to live anywhere else in the world again.

It was a crisp winter’s day, families were feeding ducks, and as I wandered from the Italian renaissance garden to the Japanese garden to the traditional Maori garden I fell deeper and deeper in love with the gardens and my new home city.

I remember thinking at the time how wonderful it was that there was no charge to enter the gardens, that it was available for all to visit – from an out-of-towner with two cents to her name like me to the mums I saw pushing prams around to the large family groups who had gathered for informal picnics or a game of cricket.

Over the years I’ve returned many times to Hamilton Gardens. When my now-husband moved all the way from London to Hamilton to be with me it was where I took him to introduce him to our new home and just I had he too fell in love with it immediately. Down the track he would plan to propose there on Valentine’s Day but a flat car battery stopped his romantic gesture.

When our first son Charlie was born I would spend hours walking through the gardens with him in a baby carrier because it was the only way he would sleep. For our first Mother’s Day as a family we went there – Charlie vomited on the steps by Turtle Lake if I remember correctly – and we shared the day with hundreds of other families.

When we left New Zealand to live in Northern Ireland for 18 longs months the gardens was the last place we visited before we headed for the airport and it was a teary farewell. And as the weeks and days counted down before we returned to our beloved Tron, now with identical twin baby boys in tow, we daydreamed about going back to the gardens and taking our three boys to see all the changes. It was a happy reunion.

img_0966

My stories are no different to the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who have visited the gardens since they opened in 1960.

And, like me, they are most likely appalled at the idea sprung on us by newly elected mayor Andrew King to charge a NZ$25 entry fee for ‘non-residents’ to visit the gardens. (The exact wording is an entry fee for the “specialty gardens” but let’s ignore the PR spin and be clear here, it’s a general admission fee. Why go to the gardens if not to see the, well, gardens?).

How or what constitutes a ‘non-resident’ has not been made clear at the time of writing, nor has Mayor King explained why he kept his grand plan quiet during his recent election campaign. He won by only nine votes, so perhaps he deliberately kept this on the down low lest he ruin his chances to grab the top job.

But I digress.

Mayor King claims an entry fee is needed because the gardens have become ‘too popular’, whatever that means. I don’t know exactly what an entry fee will do other than penalise people who can’t afford the $25 a pop to visit. Does the Mayor only want the wealthy to visit? Busloads of cashed up tourists who hop on and hop off an hand over their credit card are okay but backpackers or families who have saved for a year to visit New Zealand aren’t good for business?

And it’s not just tourists who will be shut out of the gardens. It means all those Waikato folk who live outside ‘resident’ zone will be forced to pay. People who may have lived in Hamilton for years and years, their annual rates paying for the upkeep of the gardens, now charged for the privilege of setting foot inside a public space they helped build.

My husband and I rent a modest home while we scrimp and save enough money for a deposit for a family home. With three boys and Hamilton’s house prices being what they are it’s likely we will have to look further afield to a regional town like Te Awamutu for an affordable property.

When we move we would have to fork out at least $50 to visit the gardens we so love to spend time in as a family. Suffice to say that would be $50 we simply couldn’t afford.

Mayor King prides himself on being a successful businessman – he’s the boss man at King’s Finance – and he owns lots of commercial property in Hamilton. On his website he says he’slearnt some hard lessons with my own money during my years in business”.

Perhaps the one lesson Mayor King failed to learn was the one thing that underpins any strong, vibrant, fair, and ultimately successful city: that there are some things you can’t put a price on.

‘Tell Peter Garrett welcome to fucking federal politics’: Lessons from Midnight Oil’s frontman

The first time I met Peter Garrett was by the side a country road and I was being instructed to tell him “Welcome to federal fucking politics”.

It was June 2004 and Garrett, frontman for seminal Australian rock band Midnight Oil, had just been announced as a Federal candidate for the Australian Labour Party.

I was a journalist on the Sun-Herald and myself and a photographer were dutifully dispatched from Sydney to Garrett’s family home in the Southern Highlands, about 90 minutes south of the city. Our job was to find Garrett, photograph him and get at least a line or two out of him about his new gig. He’d been playing cat and mouse with the press for days, a lot was riding on our mission.

Garrett’s house was in the rolling countryside at the end of a long driveway, so we parked the car and waited. Sure enough Garrett came driving down, slowed his car down and looked right at us. From memory we started to follow him, Garrett driving a white Volvo. I remember thinking it was kind of funny, a rock and roll star driving a family station wagon.

It was pretty obvious Garrett knew we were following him and all I can remember thinking was “This man wrote the soundtrack to my political and activist life, he’s written my favourite ever songs, I admire and respect him as a musician so much and now I am chasing him, oh my god what have we all become.”

He eventually pulled over, I had my deputy editor on the end of my mobile phone in quite an animated state – he was ex Fleet Street and lived and breathed for moments like this – and I asked him what I should say to Garrett as he came lumbering over to our car.

Tell him ‘Welcome to federal fucking politics and if he doesn’t fucking like it he can talk to me!’” he barked down the phone, clearly enjoying himself immensely.

So I had my chat with Garrett, got a few lines out of him, and he agreed to be photographed in town picking up his dry cleaning. Suits, dark suits, no doubt to be worn when he went to meet the big wigs of his new party.

He looked as uncomfortable doing it as I felt watching it.

I have never forgotten about that day, the conflict I felt, how odd it was that this giant of the music scene had become a politican.

Like those dark suits he was picking up from the dry cleaners, it never seemed a right fit.

Garrett served in the Australian federal parliament from 2004 to 2013.

When it was announced this week that Midnight Oil had reformed, I was thrilled. A flood of memories came rushing back – and not just of that crazy winter’s day spent chasing him for a story.

I remember being a seven year old public schoolgirl in western Sydney when Beds Are Burning was released. I liked the song, had absolutely no idea what is was about, and asked a teacher what the line “It belongs to them, let’s give it back” was all about.

Their explanation marked the first time I heard the word “Aboriginal”. On reflection it really beggars belief. Until then I genuinely had not known I was living in a country that had been populated by a completely different race for 40,000 years.

Europeans had come and taken their lands and killed them and taken their babies off them and denied them the the right to vote. My school’s name was “Mawarra Public School”, it is an Aboriginal word, and I still didn’t know. We, that generation, didn’t know, we weren’t taught it, people didn’t talk about it. That’s the power of music. It taught me all of that, in just one song.

bedsareburning

Later on in life I would sit and listen to “Blue Sky Mine” and come to understand the power big mining companies can wield over governments, the damage they can do the environment, the value in trade unions to protect workers’ rights. I joined my local workplace union and took part in many strikes for fair pay and working conditions after that.

Later still when I would cop grief from family and friends and workmates over my strong social and political views I would sometimes put my headphones on and listen to “Power and the Passion”. The line “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” resonated with me, even if only on a small scale.

There were peaceful times with their music, too, of drinking champagne and watching the sun rise over Coogee Beach with girlfriends. We were looking out to Wedding Cake Island and listening to their song of the same name. They were good times.

I am sure so many of us out there have their own “Midnight Oil Moment”, a time and a place where they heard a line or two from one of their many wonderful songs and feeling something.

The second, and last, time, I saw Peter Garrett was in 2005 when Midnight Oil performed at Wave Aid, a charity concert in Sydney to raise money for victims of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. By that time he had been elected to the Australian federal parliament.

The Oils were the final act of the night and were magnificent. Powderfinger, Silverchair, Nick Cave and Neil and Tim Finn had been on before them but Midnight Oil blew everyone out of the water.

 

midnightoil
Midnight Oil perform at the 2004 Wave Aid charity concert in Sydney.
I’ve got three little boys now and am far too old and boring to go to any more rock concerts. But knowing the music and showmanship of Midnight Oil is back for a whole new generation makes me as happy as I was that night, dancing in the dark with 50,000 other hot and sweaty bodies and feeling happy there was people like Peter Garrett still in the world.

Welcome back, Midnight Oil. I am glad you took off the suit and got out of politics. You were always way too important for that.

Don’t like my noice Aussie accent? Bugger off, then.

I once had an English boyfriend tell me if we had children he would send them to elocution lessons.

So they don’t speak like their mother” he helpfully offered.

It appeared he had taken a dislike to my thick Aussie accent and believed it to be indicative of a level of informality not conducive to a full and successful life. He was soon relieved of the burden of having to listen to it further.

My accent has calmed down a bit since I moved from Australia to New Zealand and now I say “fush and chups” with the best of them. But my twang is still there and I still get the odd bit of grief for it. I was once laughed at in a bar because of the way I ordered a glass of wine – apparently there’s more than one way to say shiraz – but it’s water off this Sheila’s back.

I sometimes wonder what Mr English Accent* would think of the way my son speaks. Charlie is now three and although born in New Zealand, he’s spent half of his life in Northern Ireland. His daddy has the thickest Northern Irish accent I’ve ever heard. Some people swear Charlie has an Irish accent, others think he sounds like WWE wrestler playing a Russian bad guy.

But I don’t hear his accent. I only hear the excitement in his voice when he sees a butterfly in the garden or a helicopter in the sky, the tremble when he knows his little twin baby brothers are upset, the lispy whisper when he is sleepy and asks for one more bedtime story.

Nor do I hear the thick accent of the Indian couple who own and work (bloody hard may I add) in my neighbourhood’s local corner store. I only hear the tiredness in the voices from yet another 15-hour shift, the patience when they tell their boy to go back into the store room and finish his homework while mum and dad serve someone.

I don’t hear the Koren accent of a teacher at our boys’ daycare. She was given a job there when no one else would employ her because of they way she spoke. To say all the children love her is an understatement. She is kind and gentle and patient with them. When I close my eyes all I can hear her saying to my sons it it’s naptime now and mummy and daddy will be back soon so why don’t they have a lie down and let me stay with you until you fall asleep.

I don’t hear the accents of the Somalian refugees at the local markets, I only taste the delicious traditional food the cook up and sell at night markets. You’ve not lived until you try chicken spaghetti, Somalian-style.

They stand alongside the men and women from Afghanistan and Syria and Myanmar who make and sell the most exquisite needlepoint embroidery you will ever see, jewelry, hand-stitched bags and shawls. Some can’t speak much English at all, but I hear their sons’ and daughters’ blossoming little Kiwi voices when they act as translator for me.

img_4578
My sons don’t hear the accents of the Afghani women but feel their warm hugs instead.
I do hear the deep and proud Maori accents of those who live and work alongside me in the beautiful country. I will never be able to pronounce Te Reo Maori like they can, but I try my hardest and my heart is full of joy knowing my sons are being raised in country that respects its first peoples’ language so much. One day I was driving Charlie to the shops and a bus went past. “Kia ora (hello) bus,” he said without thinking. I almost cried.

And I do hear my own accent, my thick, twangy Aussie-turned Kiwi-ish accent.

I hear it when I am trying to order a Vietnamese dish in a restaurant and completely bugger up my order or when I call out hello to the gorgeous Pakeha (white) grandmothers waiting for the bus and when I buy bundles of bok choy at the Asian grocers and ask how much I owe them.

I hear it when I am telling my boys that I love them, or that no, I won’t be putting on a tractor DVD for the millionth time. I hear it when I sing John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads to the twins to make them smile or when I Charlie if he needs a cuddle to make his scraped knee feel better.

But you know what? I don’t care about my accent or anyone elses any more than I care about what women wear or don’t wear on their heads or what tattoos you do or don’t sport or what your faith is or isn’t or what country you were born in or what passport you hold.

Judge people on what they say, not how they say it.

*He’s from Peterborough so you can judge his accent for yourself.

The incredible story of how NZ’s Maori welcomed their Muslim refugees

You may have heard of the haka but when New Zealand wants to welcome someone they hold a powhiri.

It’s a Maori ceremony that is afforded to visiting royalty, dignitaries and sporting teams. It is a beautiful ceremony full of tradition and warmth.

There will be no powhiri for Peter Thiel.

The Donald Trump-loving mega billionaire has been revealed as a newly minted New Zealand citizen, but even the NZ$1 million he donated to the Christchurch earthquake recovery efffort won’t win him any friends down under.

New Zealand celebrates that it was the first in the world to give women the vote.

When same sex marriage was passed MPs sang a Maori waiata, or traditional song, in our national parliament.

The French blew up a Greenpeace boat in Auckland in 1985, killing one crew member, such was the power of this country’s anti-nuclear stance against their tests in the south Pacific.

So, no, Mr Thiel’s wealth will not sway New Zealanders, be they pakeha (white New Zealanders), Maori or the migrants that live here.

Instead powhiri will continue to be to be offered to those who possess what the Maori call “mana” – defined in English as honour, a recognition of your humbleness, good deeds and traits.

I remember one powhiri well. It was in 2013 to welcome a group of refugees from Afghanistan. With front pages of newspapers telling the new arrivals “Welcome Home” 94 refugees, their wives and children, began their new lives in Aotearoa.

They had been invited, yes invited, by the New Zealand government to move down under after they risked their lives working as interpreters for the New Zeland defence forces.

After eight weeks at a refugee centre where they learned all about life in their new country (with a few trips to the seaside thrown in) the families headed to their new homes, and lives.

Some arrived in my hometown of Hamilton, New Zealand, or Kirikiriroa as it is known in Maori.

Large parts of the community had waited, excited and nervous, for their arrival. Signs in offices across the city asked workers to donate old furniture and household goods to set up their new homes, the local Red Cross agency was overwhelmed with offerings.

Volunteers scrubbed houses clean, hung curtains, offered to show them how to use the local buses, the supermarket, the banks.


And the Afghans got their powhiri.

As their bus drew into Hamilton, their first stop was the Kirikiriroa Marae. A marae is a Maori communal and sacred meeting ground, a place of celebration and to welcome the living (as well as to farewell the dead).

It is a great honour to be invited onto a marae, and the Afghans, no doubt excited but nervous, were given a powhiri befitting their mana.

Maori warriors performed haka and laid down the traditional challenge to the new arrivals.

Raza Khadim, an intepreter who served alongside the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan for 10 years, calmly leaned down to pick up the teka (peace offering) before leading his fellow countrymen and women onto the marae.

“I was a bit scared because it was my first time,” he told the Waikato Times.

“This much respect, this much honour, this much welcome we have never seen. It’s been great.”

The ceremony was followed by lunch, a mix of eastern and Kiwi cuisine – curry and rice, kumara (what Americans would call sweet potato) and homemade cakes and other sweet treats for the children.

Cakes would be a big feature of their welcome to New Zealand. In every town they settled in, locals would hold “welcome to the neighbourhood” street parties, homemade cakes and slices offered up by Kiwi grandmothers who had lived through their own war may decades earlier.

After the Afghans left the marae and saw their new homes for the first time, life soon returned to the new normal.

The Afghan children started local schools, the men found jobs – some are training to be police officers – and many of the women have started making and selling handcrafted embroidered items at local markets. This past Christmas I bought from one Afghan refugee a tradtional Christian Christmas decoration and a hand stiched doll wearing a beautiful pink hijab.

img_4578
My son, Tommy, and Afghan refugee Aziza, who makes and sells Christmas decorations.

Since then Afghans we’ve welcome more refugees from other parts of the world, some from Syria, some from Eritrea, Somalia. Women wearing hijabs are becoming a common, and accepted, sight. Halal butcher shops are opening and really, really good kebabs are being sold as street food. The sky hasn’t fallen in, the All Blacks are still winning, I’ve added a second hijab dolly to my collection.

Will we ever see Mr Thiel at a local Kiwi market? Probably not. The traders and shoppers there are the people his good friend President Trump have just banned from America.

Mr Thiel will find that getting into New Zealand is the easy part. Belonging is another matter.

What life is really like with three boys under three.

My name is Angela, I have three boys under three and I haven’t slept in three-and-half years.

There’s Charlie, he came first and when he was 20 months old we welcomed identical twins Tommy and Henry into the world.

People always seem curious about how we cope, or don’t cope, and I can confirm that yes, we do have our hands full.

Sleep, or lack of it, is the real killer. Charlie is almost three and has only just started to sort-of sleep through the night, but if he does wake and call out for me he usually wakes a twin up, or vice-versa.

Despite being identical twins, Tommy and Henry have very different ideas about sleep. Henry appears to love it but his brother Tommy will wake two or three times each night and bangs his head on the cot mattress to “self-soothe” himself back to sleep.

My husband and I often swap daydreams about what illness or injury we would like to get, something that makes us sick enough to have to spend a few days in hospital on bed rest without feeling guilty about leaving the other at home to deal with the boys. He actually once wound up in hospital because he thought he was having a heart attack.

The boys start to wake from about 4am each day and their eventual bedtime can be anywhere from 6pm to 10pm. Forget all that “expert advice” about getting twins on the same routine, I am flat out remembering who is who and have they actually been fed. (And yes, I still get them mixed up. Tommy mercifully has a birthmark on the back of his neck for quick identification).

cryingtwins
A BOND THAT CAN’T BE BROKEN: That’s Tommy, I think, on the left.

Meals (because there is no set “mealtime”, ever) are literally a moving feast. I get so sick of plopping the twins in their high chairs and pulling them out again that I end up crawling after them on the floor, shoving bits of pre-cooked Hellers sausage into their mouth. Charlie is easier to deal with as he only eats cheese sandwiches, of which I make about 17 a day. He eats about two of them, but hey, the birds are well fed.

All three are still in nappies, so when I am not feeding them I am changing them. Our bins get so full that my husband has to wait until bin night and, under the cover of darkness, will place black bin bags in neighbours’ driveways because we always exceed the two-bag limit.

Going out by myself with all three is almost impossible. I tried once, to a local shopping centre, and it ended with the toddler throwing the mother of all tantrums and refusing to walk back to the car so a stranger had to carry him for me.

Parks and playgrounds are OK, but the twins will always crawl off in different directions while Charlie wants me to help him down the slide, and by the time we get there anyway at least one baby wants feeding or needs to go home for a nap and that’s too unfair on their big brother.

I can never do things like pop them in the car to pick up a few things from the supermarket. A grocery shop is something I have to do late at night when they are all in bed, but it’s sadly fun for me because it gets me out of the house. I take them to Playcentre twice a week, which has saved me, and them, from virtual house arrest.

Everyone said it would get easier when the twins turned one, but to be honest it’s getting harder. They want to walk but can’t, and cry in frustration. They bite me when they are teething, and if you turn your back on them for a second they are opening drawers and tipping over toy boxes and eating old food off the floor.

But we muddle through each day, and each day does eventually end and they all do eventually go to sleep.

Some days are harder than others, like when they are sick or I am dog tired and all they want to do it play. I’ve sat on the twins’ bedroom floor at 3am and sobbed and locked myself in the en suite at lunchtime to take a few deep breaths and drink a cold cup of tea.

Do I have moments where I wish I was things were different? Sure, and I bet everybody does. The twins weren’t planned, and boy they were a surprise. I never realised identical twins don’t run in families, they are a kind of freak of nature, and they can strike anyone at any time. We had decided we only wanted two children, and I still feel wistful at times about the “singleton” baby I never had.

But then, just when you think it can’t possibly get any harder I find the twins sitting outside in the sun happily picking daisies from the lawn and Charlie will look over and say “mama, I love Tommy and Henry, they are my little brothers”.

And I guess that’s it, the secret of why all us parents do what we do. It’s all for them. And it’s a job I wouldn’t swap for all the sleep in the world.

Declutter my life? No thanks, my things make me happy.

We recently moved back to New Zealand from Northern Ireland and even though we were only away 18 months we somehow managed to acquire lots of things – not to mention the identical twin boys that gave our firstborn son two instant little brothers.

We were fortunate and had a furnished house waiting for us when returned home, and our shipping container stuffed with boxes and furniture arrived back home months after we did. Most of it went straight into the garage where it still sits, unpacked and gathering dust and the odd cat who sleeps in there to avoid the twins.

It was only at Christmas time that I ventured into the cats’ cardboard box kingdom to dig out our tangled strings of fairy lights when I looked around and had a ‘Do we really need all this stuff’ moment.

We had everything we needed already, I thought, so why bother holding onto all these things. Emboldened by a daytime television interview I had seen with someone who billed themselves as a “decluttering expert” (they said it makes you happier and calmer) I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.

In the first box there were old dinner plates, ones I had almost forgotten about. They were chipped and cracked, old Crown Lyn ones, brought from the Grey St Market in our last week in Hamilton for me to take to Northern Ireland as a small and comforting reminder of home.

There was a giant glass decorative bowl that was sitting on the mantlepiece of our overseas home when we got there. Given to us by friend’s of my husband’s parents, we never knew quite what it was or what to do with it but could never seem to part with it nonetheless.

There was a broach handmade by an old neighbour, a pottery artist who fired her clay with soil from Hamilton, so that on my wedding day in Ireland I would always have a piece of home with me.

weddingbrooch

There were my before-three-babies clothes, impossibly skinny jeans and party dresses and heels, kept as I had always fancied giving them to a daughter, now nothing but a faded memory of a life before kids.

But then I realised that was exactly the point of all my stuff. They were memories, ready to be recollected in technicolour detail every time I held up an old dress, the smell of nightclub smoke and perfume still in a sleeve, or when I served dinner to my sons on a plate bought when I thought I would never return to my home.

I thought about the things I wished I had kept – my Winnie the Pooh stuffed toy that won me “Best Smiling Bear” at a teddy bear’s picnic when I was five, a ceramic owl jar stuffed fulled of handwritten notes I used to leave for the fairies in the garden, my late father’s typewriter he used to write his rugby columns for South African newspapers.

So I will keep all my things, and no doubt the pile will grow over the years as my sons stop playing with toys or reading picture books that I will never be able to bring myself to give away.

I will be a cluttered, hoarding, mess with 27 pairs of jeans that don’t fit and casserole dishes I will never cook with but I will have my memories and I will be the richest person in New Zealand.

Why Chinese families make the best type of Kiwis.

img_4455

Recently my own prejudices, buried so deep I had no idea they were even there, reared their head.

It was a ‘meet the newly enrolled families’ evening at the local Playcentre and there was a Chinese-born mum and dad with their baby boy, and the boy’s grandmother, who would be taking him to the sessions.

The grandmother couldn’t speak much English, and, ashamed as I am to admit it, I began to wonder what, if any, contribution she could make to our little group of young, mostly white and English speaking mums.

Come the first day of term there she was, proudly beaming with her grandson, 10-months old and a gorgeous blob of blue-black hair and dimples to die for.

She introduced herself as Nai Nai, the Mandarin word for grandmother, and plopped little Ray (“I call him Ray Ray”) on the floor with my twin boys, who were roughly the same age.

Over the days and weeks I watched Nai Nai struggle with Ray Ray as he went through all the usual baby things that drive us all mental – teething, fussiness, tiredness from skipping naps and refusal to try new foods.

But twice a week, every week, she fronted our little group, always with a smile, and the effort she made to learn my boys’ names – and to tell apart the identical twins – was second only to the effort she made to be the world’s best grandparent.

And she did it all on her own, her son and daughter-in-law, whom she lives with, both work full-time as they build a new life for themselves and their child in New Zealand.

In broken, stunted English she would offer to make me a cup of tea or scoop up a twin when they cried. One hellish day when my toddler threw the mother all tantrums and I burst into a flood of frustrated tears she was there to give me the warmest and most comforting hug I’ve felt in a long, long time.

That was the first time I cried in front of Nai Nai. The second was even more personal, for both of us.


It was when she brought her grandson over to me, sat him at my feet and shyly handed me a picture book.

Read to him, please”, she asked. “I want him to learn English. He can’t from me.”

And there it was, the secret of all overseas-born grandparents the world over who give up everything, their own brothers and sisters back home, their independence, their everything to look after grandchildren.

They do it so their sons and daughters can work or study full time (and keep the economy running) and avoid insanely expensive childcare options.

They do it because they love their grandchildren so much they are willing to live in a country where they can’t understand a lot of what is being said or written around them, but march on nonetheless.

And, in the case of Nai Nai, they do it knowing that even if they can’t teach their grandchild English they will do whatever they can to make sure someone else can.

So next time some bigot masquerading as a politician goes off on a rant about how they don’t hear English spoken in playgrounds any more, or if you catch yourself, as I did, wondering what Value they can add to country where they don’t read or speak the local language, or work, think of Nai Nai and Ray Ray.

Because I guarantee you wee Ray Ray will grow up to be a bright and beautiful Kiwi and the type of person New Zealand will be proud to claim as its own.

Xiè xie Nai Nai.