Friday 27 September 2019

Saving the world. Hopefully.

"Why are there so many kids on the ferry? Is it a school trip? Oh! It's the holidays, isn't it?"

No, dumbo, it's the Climate Strike march today, heard of that? Sigh. It's probably too much to expect that she watched the news tonight and saw the reports from all around the country of kids - and adults - marching today, 170,000 of them. That's 3.5% of our entire population, Greta Thunberg noted with delight. We were only beaten, world-wide, by Vanuatu, where 20% of the people turned out - for obvious reasons, being such a vulnerably low-lying Pacific nation.

Yes, I marched too, along with lots of other adults including Lolita from the Philippines, who was quite emotional, and Maori Esther who was much more steely-eyed, being a veteran of protest marches from way back. But the majority were school kids, many of them with cardboard signs and banners, all of them cheerful but determined, and very loud about it. Quite a few were in school uniform, having checked in for registration first before setting off, with official sanction, to Aotea Square in Auckland central.
There was live music, then speeches, both complaining and encouraging, and chanting and shouting, and periodic general budging up to allow more people to squeeze in off the street. It rained briefly, and umbrellas sprang up, and then the sun came out again and we set off down Queen Street, filling it from side to side and end to end, watched by office workers from windows and the pavement, and the odd slightly bemused policeman.

It was a polite and good-natured gathering, people were friendly and happy to pose for photos, and we made our collective way to the bottom of the street and along Quay Street, where people linked arms along the kerbs. We eventually fetched up near Spark Arena, for some more hoarse-voiced rarking up, some singing (including the national anthem) and then thank you and goodbye. All very orderly and well-organised, two hours exactly, and we dispersed cheerfully, hopeful that we had made an impression and, perhaps, one day soon, please, a difference.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

RIP iPod

It can be hard work, being positive, don't you think? Even on my morning walk, as I follow the track through the trees down to our little beach, while I'm appreciating the natural beauty and peace and solitude, I'm also wondering what I'm going to find washed up on the pebbles. That's experience, that is: usually it's a variety of plastic, but occasionally it's also dead birds. There was the shag with the fish hook in its wing, there was the little blue penguin, once there was the awful morning when there were two little blue penguins swilling about in the water - and, today, it was iPod.
iPod is - was - a red-billed gull, a threatened species here despite their numbers seeming healthy only because they're so good at being ubiquitous - or, rather, appearing wherever there's food, or the chance of it. Sit down anywhere along a beach and there'll be a gull checking you out within minutes. But their breeding colonies have declined markedly over the last few years, thanks (no thanks) to predators, and they need help.
So when iPod turned up, on spec, on the deck railing one day two years ago, I was happy to dish him - or her, it's impossible to tell - out some cat food. I gave him that name because, poor thing, he was missing not just one, but both feet, and tottered along on his stumps. As he did, they made a distinctive tap-tap sound - which, of course you'll know, is Morse code for the letter i. And pod, meaning legs, went with it beautifully.
So iPod learned I was a soft touch and, in the chick-feeding season, would turn up several times a day - up to six or seven, at the season's height - to nag me, and gulp down a quite extraordinary quantity of jellimeat. Other gulls noticed, even a giant black-backed gull, and they were occasionally a nuisance, making it a challenge to feed just iPod, but he persisted, and so did I. The second season, he was accompanied by a hanger-on with a high voice, who I reckon was offspring, especially when iPod got distracted one day and fed him automatically. But he only ever got the left-overs.
Anyway, I last fed iPod two days ago, and was wondering about his absence at this busy time of year - and then, there he was this morning, lying dead on the beach. It was sheer chance that I found him, because the tide was coming in. I’d never seen him at the beach before - normally, after feeding, he would fly straight off across the big bay, disappearing into the distance. When I picked up his body, I found that incredibly, unbelievably, he'd been shot - there were two holes in his chest, one each side. That meant at least that it had been quick, I hope - but also that iPod’s death was someone’s heartless, selfish, mean and despicable choice, a bit of fun that he (certainly a he) would have forgotten within minutes but which I will mourn for years. 
I gave him a respectful burial. He deserved respect, overcoming such a handicap - imagine, struggling to balance every second of the day, having to fight against every little breeze, not being able to swim, or scratch. But he stayed positive, and kept going. Brave bird. I'll miss you, iPod.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Pestival 2019

I had to tell him Well done! but my heart wasn't in it: the cuteness factor is too high, despite what I know are the grim facts. Rabbits, in just the short time I've been living full-time on Waiheke, have become noticeably high-profile even in just our little valley. On my morning walk I normally see at least four or five - the record so far is eight - pretty evenly divided between standard grey, like this poor dead baby; and pure black, and white with spots and even one with a black stripe down his back: presumably escaped/released pets, or their descendants, tch.* 
I've seen them browsing in our garden (fortunately still not much of an actual garden), eating fallen seed I put out for the birds and even sitting on our concrete drive. Though it's possible, the odds are not good that it's the same rabbit.
We don't do land mammals in New Zealand. Well, not indigenously, apart from two species of bat - all the others have been introduced. That includes ourselves, of course, and the dogs, cats, sheep, cows, horses, pigs and so on that are necessary to our lifestyle; plus the rats and mice that hitchhiked in; and the possums and wallabies introduced from Australia for the fur trade; and deer and goats for hunting; and rabbits for early-settler food; and then the ferrets, stoats and weasels brought in to control them which, understandably, found the native ground-nesting and flightless birds far more to their taste... It's a story you will find, with variants, all around the world - there can hardly be a single country that's not regretting the introduction of multiple species of animal, bird or plant that some bright spark once thought was a great idea, but which has since turned out to be an environmental disaster. 
So yesterday I went to Pestival, where I briefly sat next to Auckland's eager-to-be-re-elected mayor (the last mayor I shook hands with was *cough* Rahm Emanuel in Chicago), chatted with a TV/radio/print personality about his badly broken fingers (unfortunate collision of cycling with recycling [bin]), took advantage of generous quantities of free food and listened to a succession of earnest people fully focused on environmental purity.
Most of the stalls were weaponised: proudly showing off their specific poisons and ingenious traps, and they were getting a lot of interest. The anti-1080 lady had perhaps misjudged her market, not gathering much of a crowd; and she got shut down pretty fast when she argued with one of the experts in the Q&A session. "We've dealt with this issue previously. Next question...?" said Jesse firmly. It is an issue, but most people agree it's our best weapon, currently. Against this furry, fully-teethed monstrosity:
And these:
Nasssty mustelids. They make that poor little rabbit baby look even more pathetically innocent, despite its destructive diet...
*UPDATE: And here, indeed, is one of those descendants. Yes, even cuter. Sigh.

Monday 9 September 2019

A decade of gloating

I missed an anniversary not long ago: 15 July 2009 was the first-ever post in this blog. Even though it's such a low-profile site with, as far as I know, just the one regular 😃 reader (thank you for your loyalty, Queen) and, in ten whole years, according to Blogger, a relatively scant 452,000 page views (most of them probably mine), it's still a bit of a milestone.

I started it as the result of attending a travel writing course where we were encouraged to establish a social media presence. Its value in establishing my credibility as a serious and professional writer is dubious; certainly unprovable. Consequently, as it can sometimes be a bit of a chore, I've occasionally neglected it for weeks at a time - but I always get sucked back, mainly because I've already invested so much time and effort into it, it feels wrong to abandon it completely. That's a common human response to this kind of situation: there must be a label for it in psychology.

Anyway, I'd already been writing travel stories for a while - 2000 was my first, a random one-off about that Royal Garden Party I referenced again just a few posts ago - but it took a while to realise I could work that up into a thing. Meantime, I did a lot of book reviews, opinion pieces on everything from head lice to apostrophe abuse; and then one day in 2003, having had a rough morning as a relief/substitute teacher wrangling reluctant, not to say stroppy, Year 10/fourth form/15 year-old girls for the first two periods, instead of reporting to the Deans to file detention forms, I sneaked in my free period before lunch into the library for some respite. There I read a copy of North & South magazine, right to the back page where they had a feature called 'Places in the Heart' where readers wrote about bits of New Zealand that were special to them.

"I could do that!" I thought; so I did, about a high-country horse trek I went on when I was around 12. And the magazine published it, it was a thrill, and that was it, I thought.

Then I got a big envelope in the post from Outward Bound, with a brochure about their courses that I glanced at, thinking that would be fun but too expensive, and put aside. Several days later I picked it up again and this time read the letter accompanying it, in which the writer said she had seen my North & South story, thought (rightly) that I sounded the sort of person to appreciate what they did, and would I like to take part, gratis, in a special 8-day course they were running for media people, to advertise their upcoming 40th birthday?

So, suddenly, I was a media person. I did the course with a bunch of TV, radio and print journalists (one of whom got scared off on the third day when shown the high ropes course we would do that night, and ran away home to Nelson) (he was a bloke, by the way) and afterwards I sold the story to the Sunday Star-Times.

Then, having taken on board the Outward Bound philosophy that you can do anything, you just have to believe in yourself and get on with it, I decided I would be a travel writer. Where would I like to go first? No-one I knew had ever been to Tasmania, despite its being so close, so I wrote to the Tasmanian tourism people, said I was a travel writer interested in getting some experiences to write about, and showed them a copy of what I told them was my latest story - true, but I didn't elaborate that it was my only travel story.

They were persuaded, and sent me (and the Firstborn) on a 10-day self-drive around the island, all expenses paid. It was a revelation. And that was the beginning of a career that's taken me - after a slow beginning that involved many rejections and much patience and persistence on my part - to all seven continents, Antarctica to the Arctic, Machu Picchu (twice) to Rwanda, from a swag on the bank of a crocodile-infested river to a 6-room suite in the Peninsula in Hong Kong with a TV over the bath and a telescope in the living room. It's been a blast, and writing about it here has been a rewarding way to record it all, for my own enjoyment, if no-one else's. 

So I'll carry on, even if the future looks to hold less travel than I would prefer. There's always the other function of this blog [see above, right]: to use everyday events to connect with memories of places that are now far away, but also forever a part of me. Ten more years? We'll see. 


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