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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.