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l'enfer du North Island

  do i look like a ... role model? Friday 25 February 2011 link

As a modern parent, I leave my 3 year old daughter in creche on days I get tattoos. So I go in at the end of the day, with various limbs wrapped in plastic wrap, oozing blood and lymph, pick her up, and ask her how her day was. "I played doctors! I was the victim!"

I found out tonight that after the last time I turned up at creche with a fresh tattoo, the next morning a lot of the kids wanted their legs wrapped in plastic so they could have tattoos too. Bless.

  it's past words Wednesday 23 February 2011 link

As I write, it's the day after the Christchurch earthquake (#eqnz). For people reading overseas, we're fine, Wellington is 300k (190 miles) from Christchurch: some people here felt the quake, but that was it. In Christchurch, it's a different story. It's a total fucking mess, and there are an unknown number (but a lot) of people dead. This is NZ's worst tragedy for a long, long time. For those of us outside Christchurch, the question of what we can do hovers over our head. A number of suggestions have been made - donate blood, donate money, give food, offer a place to stay. Probably the best is to donate money directly to the Red Cross - at That was you can be sure that the money is going to help the quake relief. And if I ever find any of the scum who are setting up fake donation pages to steal cash from people wanting to donate to the relief effort, I'll fucking kill them.

Kia kaha, everyone in Christchurch. We're all thinking of you.

Short of anything else I could think of to do, I continued my life pretty much as normal today, but felt guilty about it. That meant that I went off and went to my (booked a month ago) tattoo session today. As I drove up the coast to Paekakariki, I kept passing Army trucks full of kit heading purposely for Wellington, presumably bound thence to Christchurch. This did not help me feel less useless. When I got to the studio, the usual pleasantries were replaced by each of us checking whether the other had any relatives in Christchurch. Apart from that, the day went well; we did the inside of my right calf, and I'm very happy with the design. Tim at Pacific Tattoo is a great guy, and the leg is looking good.

If you've got a spare few minutes, and fancy checking out a short doco, watch Tim Hunt's Pacific Tattoo on Vimeo. It's a really good piece of work; showcases the art, explains the philosophy, and provides a bit of insight. The only place it falls short is inexplicably failing to cover his excellent tea-making prowess. I'm reliably informed (by Tim) that the scene where he walks down the main street in Paekak and someone drives past in a Citroen DS9 was not staged - Paekak is just that kind of place.

While I was getting tattooed, I kept wondering what it'd be like if an earthquake hit while it was happening - what I'd do. The answer seems to be, die. If you're planning on getting a tattoo in NZ in the near future, various tattoo studios are donating tattoo time to raise money for the earthquake relief effort - donate and get some ink at the same time.

  sauce for the etc Monday 14 February 2011 link

When I was a student, our neighbours were the Anglican chaplains at the university. A couple of trendy vicars in their late 20s. One day, they came past and explained politely that they had parishioners around for tea, and that if someone stood in the window of their living room and looked hard to the right, they could see into our bathroom. And so they wanted us to put up a curtain in the bathroom window, as otherwise they could see our sinful nakedness.

Our polite response was to suggest that people not stand in at the living room window and look hard right.

So I don't think I have the moral high ground in my wanting to mention to our middle-aged neighbours that it's always a good idea to close your curtains before doing anything like whatever the hell it is that they're doing at the moment, even if it isn't whatever I think it is. If it's what I think it is, it's a very odd way to go about it; if it isn't, it's certainly a damn funny thing to be doing. And if it was for Valentine's day, god help us all. But we can only see it from the window of the laundry room; and I think that, overall, the best thing I can do is to not go near the window of the laundry room.

But it certainly added an odd frisson to tonight's whites wash, I'll tell you that.

  queen reference goes here Saturday 12 February 2011 link

It's good cycling weather at the moment. Not too windy, warm, still light in the evenings. If you've not ridden a bike for a while, give it a go; it's a great time to do it.

One thing I am noticing is that there's a lot of people at the moment who've bought the cycling kit and are clearly determined to wear it. Specifically, I keep seeing people wearing cycling rain jackets in fluoro colours. Now, I myself own such a jacket - if you're planing on cycling in any inclement weather, they're a godsend. But I'm seeing people wearing these when it's a beautiful sunny evening. I'm going past wearing bike shorts and a top, both made of lycra, and I'm sweating like a pig. And there they are! Wearing their bike jacket! I mean, dude, I know it cost a lot, but don't you get hot? You don't have to sweat! Take the jacket off and get some wind on yourself!

Seriously, though, get out and ride. There's a free breakfast next wednesday for Bike to Work day, with city councils throughout the region encouraging cycling - there's one near you; roll along!

  i firmly believe that arbitrary things matter Thursday 10 February 2011 link

I'm currently midway through my annual couple of months off booze. This year, it happens to coincide with FebFast, a charity sponsorship version of the same activity. It's like the 40-hour famine, but a month, and with booze. You get your mates to kick a few bucks in, it goes to a good cause, and you discover that after a week off the beer your hands stop shaking. It's a win for all, and I heartily encourage people to donate.

But one thing about FebFast rubs me up the wrong way. If you kick in $25, you can get a Time Out certificate - that is, a license to swill on one day. Now, a few weeks ago, we got invited to a rather nice party, which featured an open bar. And not your average open bar, free beer and some wine until it runs out around 9pm; an actual bar, complete with wanky cocktails and the like, for nowt. I looked at the invite, sighed, and said "Ah well, it's in the middle of my time off the booze. I'll just have to get hopped up on Red Bull." Heather (who doesn't drink anyway, and also volunteered to drive) then suggested that I take a day off the months off (eh?) and tack it onto the end of the time . And I had a very negative reaction to this.

To my way of thinking, you're either doing it or you're not. You're on the bus or off. This whole half-arsed "you can take a day off" thing: no. The whole point about this is that you're imposing an arbitrary restriction on yourself, for a chosen period of time. Fiddling the rules to make it easier or more convenient: if you're going to do that, why bother? I could do two months off the booze, occasionally taking days back on it and then tacking them onto the end - that'd let me drink Friday/Saturday nights all through and I'd only have to avoid booze during the week, for only an extra fortnight. It's pointless. Do it, or don't.

I'm a bit of an absolutist about this. That said, if you're doing FebFast, all strength to yer arm, drop me an email and I'll kick in a tenner.

Anyway, it's always the same for me. Not drinking is a bit annoying for the first week, I get massive sugar cravins for a fortnight, then it's a non-issue. We're going through a lot of soda water at the moment. One thing I have noticed, however, is that I've dropped a few kilos since starting. Which is nice. So when I do go back on the booze, I may need to start cutting back on the grub a bit. Or just riding to work a lot more.

  actual political content Tuesday 1 February 2011 link

I'm a passionate believer in early childhood education.

Both my children have attended an early childhood centre - Newlands Childcare. It's the one mentioned (and photographed) in this article today. I'm on the board; I've been a committee member for three years, and the board secretary for the last two. And I think that the recent changes to early childhood education funding in New Zealand are a very, very bad thing.

I believe strongly that early childhood education is good for kids. Both of my children love(d) going to the centre. The centre puts on activities that we don't: making "slime" for the kids to play with, fresh playdough every day, painting easels set up each morning. A jungle gym. A sandpit. Just getting to run around with their peers and learn to interact. The sort of thing that we don't or can't provide at home. At the end of each day, my 3-year old sees me come in to pick her up, then runs to hide somewhere so I can't find her and she can stay a bit longer. Some people say that a single parent (by which they usually mean the mother) can and should provide everything that a child needs; I think it's a bit arrogant and setting yourself some very unrealistic expectations to expect that one person can be absolutely everything for a child. My kids have learned and enjoyed so much from their time at Newlands Childcare.

And I see all the kids learning songs. Learning to count. Learning to climb and fall and to bang nails into boards. Learning to make a volcano cone in the sandpit and then have the staff pour vinegar and baking soda in. Learning to "play as a good friend" and not just to put the bash on when someone else has a toy you want. Learning to hang upside down from monkey bars. Learning how caterpillars change into butterflies, and watching them do it. Learning to sing songs to Santa in four languages at Christmas.

It's not just my kids, either. Other kids at the centre come from all parts of the community; recent migrants, council tenants, that flash git who drives an Alfa Romeo. The kids all mix together and play happily.

But the funding changes affect this. The funding shortfall means we're having to put up the fees. Many of the families can cover this. Some cannot. At the moment, we're lucky: we can afford the higher fees. Three years ago, that would not have been true. At the time, we had an incredibly tight budget, and any reasonable price rise would have had a serious effect on our finances. Looking around, I'm seeing some people who're in that position now. And these are the people who really need the benefits that ECE provides. These are the people who may have to give up their jobs, or leave the kids with a friend who parks them in front of the telly. Early childhood education helps decrease social inequality; making it less affordable for the poor does the opposite.

The shortfall is due to the change in the funding model. For those commentators claiming that ECE is "just babysitting", please realise that the funding changes are hitting the centres with most qualified staff the hardest. The centres are funded based on the number of qualified staff on duty at a time. The more qualified staff, the higher the funding rate. The top tiers were the 80-99% and 100% brackets. This gave centres an incentive to hire as many qualified teachers as possible, and to train up any unqualified staff. The qualification, by the way, is a 3-year fulltime course - roughly equivalent to a standard bachelor's degree in NZ, and taught at a tertiary level. It's not just learning how to sit them on a mat and sing a song or two. The centres that do regard their jobs as "just babysitting" don't hire qualified staff (and often, ironically, charge higher fees to offset the shortfall in government grant), so aren't as affected. It's the centres that care about the children that are hit hardest by this.

The benefits of good early childhood education aren't just in my head. They're quantifiable. See the Public Policy Forum for a matrix of longitudinal studies, meta reviews, and cross-sectional studies on the overall social effects of early childhood education. Note that the ROI (return on investment) for ECE is somewhere between 1.18 to 1 (every dollar spent returns $1.18) to 13 to 1. So apart from anything else, it makes economic sense - but not in the short term, which is where this government is thinking.

The NZEI have a petition against the funding cuts. It's downloadable here. Please consider downloading and signing it, or writing to your MP to express your opposition to this move.

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