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l'enfer du North Island

  true horror and a penguin Thursday 30 June 2011 link

Young family moves into new suburb, buys a house. Father, mother, infant daughter. One day, while browsing about local history, the father discovers that their house is located near the site of a famous series of murders of newborn infants seventy-five years earlier. After the murders, the farmhouse where they took place was destroyed... and the family's new house was built a few years later. No-one talks about exactly where the murders were committed, except to confirm that it was somewhere on the same street as the family's house. Looking further, the father discovers that the murderer had the same surname as his great-grandfather...

No, not the start of a Stephen King novel. It's what happened when we moved into Newlands, when I found out about the Newlands Baby Farm scandal of 1923. We bought a 1930s house on Newlands Road, which must have been somewhere nearby the farm where a number of newborn babies were killed. That said, I can't find any details on exactly where on Newlands Road the farm was - which is probably for the best. Bit freaky to see a family name in the mix, though I'm sure it's just a coincidence. Given the nature of the crime, it's a reasonable bet that the people involved were not ancestors of mine.

Took advantage of a bout of sickness last week (Heather was sick, I hadn't yet come down with it, so was at home looking after the kids) to whip up the coast and see a live Emperor Penguin in the wild. We got there shortly before the penguin (gender unknown as of this date, hence lack of pronouns) was evacuated for medical treatment - when we saw it, it seemed pretty perky. Well, perky for an animal that spends much of its time basically standing still and occasionally defecating. The kids were enthralled; we took off at 3:30pm, got there by half four, and staggered onto the beach as the daylight died and the wind got up. It was freezing cold, raining, and there was a crowd of about fifty people. I'd been worried that we might bowl up to Peka Peka beach and not be able to find the penguin: Peka Peka is not that kind of place. It's basically three houses and a carpark. The penguin was about fifty metres down the beach. The road was a rolling boil of cars arriving and departing, as a steady stream of families took what was looking like a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of these. As I stared at the penguin's oleaginous mass, I overheard the woman next to me comment that she'd spent a season in Antarctica and hadn't seen one there, so this was a bit of a goal for her. After ten minutes, I bundled the kids back into the car, one of mother nature's miracles ticked off the list.

That said, who the hell nicknamed the penguin "Happy Feet"? For one thing, that's the name of a movie about penguins, not even a character within the movie (the Wood-en faced protagonist is called Mumble). For another, it's an annoying movie (Surf's Up is genuinely a much better movie on a number of levels, despite the incredibly annoying concept - I am absolutely not joking about this). And for a third, if you're going to nickname a penguin after an animated character, how the hell could you go past Kowalski?

I'd also like to recycle the standard joke based on the fact that Peka Peka is notorious as a gay nudist beach, and point out that the Peka Peka pecker pecker would also have been a good name. Bit cumbersome for the kids though.

  the street finds its own uses for things Sunday 19 June 2011 link

I have had a new watch for a few weeks. It is a diving-style watch, with a movable bezel which one can use to time the length of a dive.

  a sudden realisation Friday 17 June 2011 link

Just realised that recently, in my role as a board member of a community facility, I had taken the advantage of a face-to-face meeting with the Minister of Revenue (also my local MP) to point out to him that the current Early Childhood Education funding regime was acting as an active disincentive to hire more than a certain number of qualified staff at any given childcare facility.

So, yeah. Definitely a grown-up now.

  token honky Wednesday 15 June 2011 link

So, I got called a racist today.

I was cycling home. It was a lovely, calm evening; the full moon hung over Evans Bay like the hand of god. Riding around the bays was a joy. Coming into Oriental Bay, I kept the pace up and swung out, pulled across, and around into the waterfront cycle path. Coming up to Te Papa, there was a bloke riding a bit in front of me. This was on the part where the tarmac is nice and wide; he was looping back and forth a bit at about 15kph. I pulled around to pass him on the right, but he suddenly turned hard right towards the statue of Solace in the Wind. I swerved, he swerved, he swore. "Fucking cunt!" Normally I'd just go "Careful mate", but in this case I responded in kind: "Watch the fuck out!"

And then it got weird. He started riding along after me, shouting abuse, and shouting "Fucking wannabe! Fucking white racist! This is my fucking country, not yours! You want to fucking go, do you? I'll fuck you up!" And variations on that theme. Long story short: we were both on bikes, I was faster, and the whole point of bikes is that they let you get places fast. I put a few revs in and heard his screamed threats disappear into the distance behind me.

Two quick points here:

  1. Too often, cyclists are pitted against drivers. All the drivers I met on my ride tonight were perfectly courteous; I think it's good to remember that no matter what your mode of transportation, some people are dicks.
  2. At least he had lights.

Thinking about it, as I pedalled on, I started to wonder... where the hell the racist comments came from. Last time I looked, overtaking someone was not a racially charged act. Ditto the cry of "wannabe"; where the hell did that come from? At the time, I'd assumed that it was a reference to the fact that I'm an overweight guy in full lycra, a "wannabe" racer... And then the penny dropped.

He'd been calling me a racist because I have tattooed legs. And a wannabe because he thought they were Maori tattoos.

If you've not seen my legs (believe me, you're missing out), here's a reasonable view of them (left leg, right leg). I have some big abstract black tattoos on my legs. This guy had looked at me, assumed I was white, and that the tattoos on my legs were Maori designs. There's a couple of issues here. Firstly, the assumption that I was white. I'll readily admit to being one of the whitest people on the planet, but it was bloody dark, and I have several Maori friends (and, to be honest, close relatives) who look about as white as I do when the only illumination is street lamps and you're moving at 20kph. Secondly - and more tellingly - is the issue of cultural appropriation.

None of my tattoos are from any particular cultural niche. This is deliberate; I have a serious problem with the whole "Oh, don't be so silly, of course we can use your cultural symbols, it's a sign of respect!" attitude found in a lot of first world tattoo collectors. I make a point of only having abstract tattoos with occasional commonly used symbols; for example, the spiral (used in Maori symbology, obviously, but also in Celtic and god knows how many others). I take my lead in this from the hui of Ta Moko artists that established the concept of kirituhi; kirituhi being Maori influenced tattoo designs that are not ta moko. The idea being that a lot of people want Maori tattoo designs, but Ta Moko itself is a reflection of whakapapa, of whanau, of tikanga; of where you come from and who you are; and that kirituhi is a Maori-style tattoo design that non-Maori can partake in without offending Maori. I think that's an important distinction, and a worthwhile one.

Which is to say, I think there's a line between appropriation of culture, and respectful homage. And in the case of Maori culture, a group has explicitly got together and drawn that line, with clear instructions on which side to stand. And I respect that line, and have been careful to stand on the correct side. I respect tikanga Maori, and the traditions of the various Pacific peoples, and would not appropriate them.

So anyway; fuck him. I've thought long and hard about my tattoos, I don't regret them, and I've been careful not to appropriate culture unthinkingly. And on that note, I'm bloody ringing my tattooist tomorrow morning, to get a bit more of my legs done.

UK readers interested in kirituhi, this is probably worth a look:

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