It's been an eerie start to the year here in Ōtepoti, Aotearoa.
The day dawned ... except, it didn't. The air was thick and yellow-hued. The birds were silent.
'It almost looks like an Australian bushfire sky,' I thought. 'But those fires are over 2000km away in a different country. It can't be that.'
But it was. It is. And it's been a very unsettling way to ring in the new decade - a visceral reminder of how precious our world is, and how connected we all are ... and how badly we are failing our own habitat and the other animals we share it with.
I've seen a lot of people sending thoughts and prayers via social media, but I don't think thoughts and prayers will do a lot. What we can send - those of us with $5, or $50, or whatever to spare - is cash. And if you don't have any spare cash at this rather financially draining time of year, I have some other ideas further down.
Help fund fire services (seems crazy, you would think the Australian Government would be onto this)
Help the people displaced by fires
What else can we do?
Climate change has made these bushfires more catastrophic than they were in the past. It is up to all of us to do our best to reduce our impact on the environment.
As I finished this post I had to run outside to break up a cat fight. I couldn't see a single star in the sky.
Photo: Christian Reusch, Flickr, 2013.
I live in historic Port Chalmers, Otago, and my neighbour Andy Thompson happens to be a very talented photographer. We teamed up to create a photo essay about three historic Port Chalmers pubs that are still thriving today: The Portsider, Mackie's Hotel and Carey's Bay Hotel. After spending a lot of time interviewing the publicans and sifting through Papers Past, we are thrilled that our story, Local Legends, has been published in local magazine Down in Edin today.
Read the Local Legends story here
See more of Andy's beautiful images here
A series of emails led the producers of The Project to writer Alicia Young, who was interviewed for a promo for a week-long series on infertility and baby loss starting tomorrow.
I have it on good authority that Alicia is very proud to have played a part in starting a national conversation on these topics.
You can click the image above to view the promo on Facebook.
Alicia Young is pretty much the worst pseudonym I could have chosen. I didn't even google it. I was walking through the fog of infertility treatment and probably not thinking clearly. I wrote a short series about undergoing IVF and having a miscarriage, and it was published on The Spinoff under Alicia's name.
Alicia came out again recently when our PM revealed that she is expecting and I knew that a certain group of women (and their partners) would be juggling some mixed feelings about the announcement. The piece must have tapped into some kind of zeitgeist as it was picked up by The Herald Online and was printed in The Herald the next day.
It felt weird and exposing and a bit self-indulgent to share such personal feelings, but the comments I received made me feel as though I did the right thing.
"It was refreshing piece you wrote and I just wanted to say thanks. You helped me."
"Thank you for putting some of this into words. Know that you are not alone there are many of us feeling as you do, and we are grateful that you have had the courage to write this."
"Oh god, yes it hurts. I think she'll be due around the week as I was."
"Thank you for writing this."
Sometimes (ok most days) I hear something on the radio or read something in the paper that makes me really cross. But the other day something made me so cross, I decided to do something about it. It was the beat-up over Ministry of Justice spending on staff development. I've worked in the public sector and I know how hard it is to do your job properly when you're under constant surveillance from social media warriors who don't always bother to dig into the issues before commenting. So I wrote this post about it... and it was published on The Spinoff! Super exciting for me... and I hope it gave some Ministry of Justice employees a smile.
It’s New Year’s resolution time and many of you will have resolved to make your cat famous this year. But how should you go about it? I happen to have a famous cat, and today I’m sharing all my insider secrets.
1. Make sure your cat has an angle. Does your cat look weird? Was it found under unusual circumstances? Is it disabled? If the answer to all these questions is no, dye it pink.
2. Ensure your cat is photogenic. If your pet’s reflection breaks mirrors, consider cosmetic surgery. Alternatively, being the world’s ugliest moggie could be your cat’s point of difference. Go for broke and shave it too (an electric razor works best).
3. Train your cat. Get it to do something that most other cats don’t. Take it surfing, take it horse-riding, take it bungee jumping. Whichever of these activities it hates least can become its ‘thing’.
4. Get your cat a pet. What is cuter than a cat? A cat that’s friends with a duckling. Get your cat a duckling.
5. Try alternative channels. Let’s face it – almost all cats are across almost all social media platforms these days. To stand out from the clowder you need to do something different. Try billboards, skywriting or making your cat wear a sandwich board.*
Now that you’ve made your cat famous you can sit back and watch the benefits of having a famous cat come rolling in. These include:
1. Career development. Under what other circumstances would you spend hours working out how to create print-on-demand merchandise, add an online store to Facebook, create animated gifs or source copyright-free music for your homemade videos? Add these skills to your LinkedIn profile. They will translate well to the workplace and you will become a sought-after employee.
2. A tidy home. You never know when the opportunity to take a cute photo may present itself. You won’t want to ruin any potential masterpieces with a messy background. Invest in a tool belt so you can carry a duster and a damp cloth on you at all times.
3. A healthy sex life. Who wouldn’t want to shack up with someone who spends their evenings tweeting their cat’s every move? (Top tip: date vets and pet food sales reps to reduce your cat-related outgoings.)
4. Untold riches. Thanks to your cat’s YouTube videos, you may receive a payment of up to two figures from Google. (You can use this to pay your Facebook advertising bill.)
5. Filling in the hours until death. What better way to while away the hours between now and your demise than by Instagramming, Tweeting and Facebooking photos of your cat?
*Please do not follow any of this advice.
My famous cat, Bruce, has never been dyed and is not friends with a duckling.
Images via Google, labelled for reuse.
This article was first posted on Graham Reid's fabulous music, travel and arts website Elsewhere. You can see photos of the Vegas Girl and other iconic K'Rd sights on the original post.
‘K’Road’s colour under threat of whitewash,’ said the headline - but the red lights are already turning off. The Pink Pussy Cat is now an immigration consultancy, the Pleasure Chest signs have been sold on trademe, and the bare-chested nymphette on the Vegas Girl building, who’s presided over the street since the 70s, is being retired. Saint Kevin’s Arcade - the grand, Neo-Greek building that’s home to grungy music venues, a leather repair business, a vegan shop, a clutch of ever-changing second hand stores and the iconic Alleluya Cafe - has been bought by a former Shortland Street actor. An unnamed source says the actor made his fortune in Grey Lynn, where the last of the blue and yellow villas have been painted beige.
A pre-European travel route, Karangahape Road is the oldest street in Auckland – and the most notorious street in the country. Today it’s a kilometre of ‘anything goes’ that connects staid Queen Street and moneyed Ponsonby. One end finishes next to the upmarket Langham Hotel and the other morphs into Great North Road - a street that is itself embracing change, with high-end apartment buildings springing up along the Grey Lynn corridor like magic crystal trees. K’Road is a place where different scenes and cultures exist side by side, and that incongruity is part of its appeal. Poets, street workers, street artists, fine artists, rough sleepers, drug addicts, latte sippers, drag queens, musicians and the people who love them brush up against each other during colourful days and hedonistic nights.
K’Road wasn’t always such a shady lady. From the late 1800s to the 1960s it was the place to be, and people came from far and wide to shop at her stylish department stores. Rendells made an appearance in 1911, and in 1926 George Courts Department Store opened and Saint Kevin’s Arcade was completed. Businesses like Hannah’s and Hallensteins were founded on the street, where glamorous lighting illuminated late night shoppers and revellers had an abundance of nearby cinemas and dance halls to choose from (including the Druid’s Hall in Galatos Street, which is still a music venue today).
But in the 1960s K’Road’s fortunes faded, and she was forced to lower her knickers in order to make a buck. The construction of the inner-city motorway system required the removal of 15,000 nearby homes and the displacement of over 50,000 residents, and new shopping malls lured customers into the suburbs. K’Road’s shops started to close, and ‘King of the g-string’ Rainton Hastie moved in. His iconic Pink Pussy Cat Club opened in 1963, and the street was filled with the roar of his pink Cadillacs and the lure of his dirty dancers. This new permissiveness opened the doors for LBGT culture. New Zealand’s first lesbian social club opened on the street, followed by other gay venues such as Legends, Staircase and Urge Bar.
When I met K’Road in 1999 it was love at first sight. I’d just moved to Auckland and the city seemed big, brash and unfriendly. Walking along K’Road felt like walking into another country. Back then the air was thick with the aromas of frying food, second hand clothes, coffee, stale sweat, clove cigarettes, vomit and the ubiquitous Nag Champa incense. The street’s seedier elements made it a safe haven for anyone creative or different. It was unlike anything I’d experienced before – but it also felt like coming home.
I bought bright saris from the Indian store and hung them in the windows of my curtainless flat (the one where grass grew between the floorboards in the kitchen). I experimented with glorious green eye shadow from Rendells. I got stuck inside a 1960s dress I was trying on in the changing room of the Salvation Army store and had to be rescued by a shop assistant. Back then Brazil Café was set up in the old Mercury Theatre foyer, and that’s where you went if you wanted a coffee that felt like a punch in the face. We’d scale the terrifyingly step ladder to get to the old bus seats upstairs, and watch cockroaches scuttle across the walls as we ate bagels studded with fat capers. In the evenings we sang karaoke at Kamo alongside tall and gorgeous drag queens.
I got a job working in one of the vintage stores in Saint Kevin’s Arcade, and made savvy purchases of sequinned gowns, spray-on pants or red cowboy boots almost every week. Our customers included students, stylists and thieves. One Saturday someone ripped an American bomber jacket from my hands and ran down the steps into Myers Park with it. I chased after them with a broom, but I didn’t get it back. Arriving on K’Road on weekend mornings, I’d often cross paths with people who were still wrapped up in the night before. Cleaning up puddles of urine outside the store was an unsavoury morning ritual, but just part of the deal.
My sister worked in the leather store further down the arcade. She and I started a band and we spent many evenings walking up and down K’Road with a bucket of homemade flour and water glue pasting up gig posters. Other evenings were spent as performers and audience members at venues like The Naval and Family, The Thirsty Dog, Edens Bar and The Wine Cellar. But K’Road isn’t just about rock and roll - it’s also a place of Chinese supermarkets, alternative therapies, Rainbow Youth, hip hop and tattoo parlours. It’s a place where you can attend a talk or a festival, take a sewing, juggling or life drawing class, and rub shoulders with the beautiful and the damned.
This is the allure of K’Road in 2015 – but she’s about to reinvent herself once again. The street that’s seen everything is about to undergo some radical surgery – including a full-body lift and a heart transplant. The City Rail Link – a project designed to improve Auckland’s public transport network – is kicking into gear, and a new train station just off K’Road will flood the street with commuters. More housing options in the area are proposed, and the street seems set to transform back into the society lady she was in the first half of last century.
But as she slides under the anaesthetic, her heartrate slows. Today, many of the shops in Saint Kevin’s Arcade are closed. Tenants have been moved on, and signs that say ‘more magic is on its way’ hang in the empty windows. The arcade has been owned by various people of the years, but for decades its patron saint has been Peter Hawkesby, who runs Alelluya Café. Peter makes a divine Jewish ginger cake, has supported countless creative people in a myriad of different ways, and once admonished me for smoking a cigarillo in my band’s promotion photos because he thought I was a bad influence. Sometime between now and Christmas Alelluya will also close, and later established businesses like Karen Walker will move in. The influence of luxury stores like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Christian Dior and Gucci, now gleaming baubles on downtown Queen Street, is creeping up the hill. K’Road will become more like Newmarket, and the colourful people of the street will find somewhere else to go.
Today, you can see still hand-drawn comic strips pasted on K'Rd's power poles. But today, the party that fare-welled the Vegas Girl is already fading into folklore. K’Road is dead. Long live K’Road.
Note: Since publishing this post I had word that the Vegas Girl sign is staying (for now). Phew!
When I was single in my early 20s there were plenty of fish in the sea. When I was single again in my late 20s all the fish had been caught or had migrated to other shores. I began to think pretty seriously about New Zealand’s man drought - what it meant for me, and what it means for our country.
I ended up finding a wonderful guy but that experience of being single stayed with me, and I decided to write an article that explored the more serious side of the man drought - a topic that’s typically been covered in a pretty light-hearted fashion.
As I researched the story it became clear that there’s an intellectual man drought within the physical man drought. Women are flocking to universities in much higher numbers than men, and are finding it hard to find similarly-educated partners.
The rise in education across the board, along with the trend of ‘assortative mating’ (whereby like partners with like) is also contributing to inequality in New Zealand, as people who are well-educated tend to earn higher incomes.
After a couple of false starts and with enormous thanks to co-author Russell Blackstock, who transformed the article and upped its relevancy by tying it into The Bachelor, the article was published in the Herald on Sunday today!
This is the first article I’ve ever had published in a newspaper. Huge thanks to everyone who helped me out by agreeing to be interviewed, providing industry advice or reading my endless drafts.
You can read the full article here: Intellectual man drought foils search for Mr Right.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.