Christchurch – love, empathy and forgiveness out of a terrible tragedy.

As those of you who have been following my blog know, it’s about books, writers, bookshops – and occasionally movies, travel and photography. But because of what occurred here in New Zealand a week ago I feel compelled to write something about it.

One week to the day ago 50 people who were going about their lives, many of them praying in their place of worship – their place of safety – were murdered and around the same number were hospitalised. It was, without a doubt, a hate crime and the dead and injured were targeted because of their religion and/or colour. All we know at this point in time is that there is just the one accused man in police custody who has been charged with one count of murder with more counts to be added before he stands trial. Much has been made of the fact that this man is a white supremacist and is Australian. I guess the authorities here want to make the point that it was NOT a New Zealander who committed such atrocities and to try to distance ourselves from the perpetrator.

I am not sure what the killer expected to happen as a result of his crimes, but if he wanted to start a race war, or religious war, or merely to spread hatred and distrust among the various races, religious groups and communities of NZ….he failed miserably. Never have I seen such a coming together of people. The support shown by the NZ public of love and empathy toward the Muslim community has been huge. And in return that love has come back from the Muslim people to the rest of NZ. Long may this state of being last.

Distrust and hatred among people of different races or religions comes mainly from ignorance, of not knowing anything about these people or their religious practices. It’s interesting to see how many hits on line there has been about what it is to be Muslim. People aren’t looking this up in order to convert, but just to understand and accept that there are more similarities between the various groups than there are differences. All too often we make a big deal about how different some people are from others instead of embracing our similarities. There has been particular distrust from non-Muslims relating to the wearing of the various head scarves starting with the hijab – which covers the hair and the neck, but leaves the face visible – through to the full burka which covers the entire head and face. For Islamic women who choose to wear the hijab it allows them to retain their modesty, morals and freedom of choice. They choose to cover because they believe it is liberating and allows them to avoid harassment. Unfortunately due to ignorance from others who have no idea about why these various head coverings are worn and so therefore fear or distrust them, harassment, of a racial kind ,is something that happens all too often. I think it’s important for all of us to have a little knowledge about all religions, all ethnic groups so that we understand rather than fear or hate through our ignorance.

A post on the BBC website – link below – shows the differences between the various Muslim head coverings and their names. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/24118241

In Iran, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Hijab has become compulsory. Iranian women are required to wear loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf in public. However in most other countries it is optional, but as a sign of respect and modesty most Muslim women choose to wear a head covering in some form or another.

The morning after the shootings, my wife told me that she wanted to pick some flowers from our garden and take them down to the local mosque to show that white people can also show love and empathy, not hatred and bigotry. So, she picked a few flowers, wrapped a ribbon around them and we visited the mosque. The gates and the building were all locked up….small wonder after what had happened in Christchurch. We were surprised to see, so early in the morning, that there were already many floral tributes and cards with messages of support attached to, or leaning against, the fence around the mosque. These tributes have continued to grow in number throughout the week and are now so deep that they are taking up most of the footpath.

There was a short – I can’t call it a service because it had no religious meaning – it was more of a moment of love and respect, there outside the fence of the mosque, when poem was read out written by the poet Rumi, called Silence (or in silence)…..followed by a minutes silence for us to reflect on what had happened. Many people of all skin colour were openly weeping. It was both sad, but at the same time quite beautiful to see this coming together of people who would not normally even speak to one another.

All over New Zealand there have been vigils and public meetings and tributes. Here in my home town of Hastings – which happens to have the only Mosque in the whole of Hawke’s Bay (our region – the same as an American state or an English county) – a service of remembrance, of love and empathy was held in the middle of town by local civic and religious officials last Monday, and even though it was in the middle of the day, when so many people would have been at work, it was heartening to see hundreds of people of all ages, races and religious backgrounds there. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and more all side by side united in grief and love.

Many non-Muslims who want to show their unity and support for the Muslim community are not sure of the protocol to follow. In times such as these it is natural to want to hug someone and tell them that things will be OK. BUT it is not generally acceptable for people outside the Muslim faith of opposite genders to have physical contact. So in general it would be acceptable for a male to hug a male and a female to hug a female – BUT please ask first. Show your respect for their culture. For female non-Muslims who want to wear a scarf or hijab to show support for their Muslim sisters – this is quite acceptable. There was a story about Muslim women who after the Christchurch attack were afraid to go out in public wearing the hijab to take their kids to school. However, non-Muslim women in the community offered to walk with them and to wear the scarf themselves.

There was a photo on Facebook showing 3 eggs – one white, one light brown and one dark brown – all decidedly different looking. In a second photo all the eggs had been cracked into a pan – all looked identical. Under that outer shell – that outward appearance – they were exactly the same. A simple but at the same time a timely reminder to us all to embrace our similarities and not focus on our differences.

We have had our first threat – supposedly from ISIS – saying that the deaths of their Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand will be avenged. This is not what the NZ Muslim community are saying. They have reacted only with love, peace, gratefulness for the huge show of public support…..and unbelievably… forgiveness for the shooter. I think all of us can learn from this.

This post is primarily about the good that came from this tragedy. I may write another post, at a more suitable time – outlining from my own perspective what I see as the problems, the unanswered questions arising from what happened and comment on the NZ governments response.

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An inspiring story of a determined woman.

My local independent book store Wardini’s in Havelock North had an author event a couple of weeks back that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. A very sprightly, articulate and entertaining octogenarian lady by the name of Robin Robilliard was there to give a talk about her book “Hard Country” – A Golden Bay Life.

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It tells the story of how she and her husband Garry arrived in Golden Bay in 1957 and took on a rocky, rundown marginal property aptly called “Rocklands” and their attempts to turn it into a successful sheep farm. They arrived there with a baby, only a few months old, armed with very little money but a lot of determination and a willingness to work hard.

The three previous owners of the land had gone bust but over the years Robin and her husband came to love this “nightmare land” and sixty years on still call Rocklands home.

She was a delight to listen to. Not only had she and her husband raised 3 children and battled the elements to make a go of their farm, but she had also worked as a nurse and later as a journalist during which time she travelled the world.

It’s a fascinating book and has sold over 10,000 copies so far. Robin says she has another book coming out soon. If it’s anything like this one, it should sell well and the best of luck to her.

She very kindly signed a copy for me and added a little personal dedication. What a lovely lady.

Bastards I have met…..a book by Barry Crump.

Please forgive the use of the B word. 

Be advised that this post contains profanities and details of violent  crime. Those of sensitive demeanour should stop reading now.

Image result for barry crump bastards i have met

For those of you who are still reading, this is partly a look at a best selling NZ authors tongue in cheek book about “Bastards” and his rugged lifestyle and partly about the more serious subject of actual Bastards – murderers and the like – who I have come across during my lifetime. OK so back to the book and the writer …..Barry Crump – or Crumpy to those familiar with him or his books was a man who didn’t mince his words. He called a spade a spade and a shovel a shovel (whatever that means…). He was a straight talker. In this book – published in 1971 – he points out that for every true hero there are about 15,000 bastards and goes on to give anyone interested his A to Z of “bastardry”. Most of the “bastards” he talks about are in actual fact likeable rogues, or the type of annoying bastard that we’d all prefer to ignore and he gives us a run down on the various categories of bastard complete with fictitious latin names, including the Actual (Bastardus fairdinkumus), through Lazy, (Bastardus loafus) and Nasty (Bastardus notquiteniceus), to Literate (Bastardus bookwormus) and Stupid (Bastardus clottus). It’s all written very much tongue in cheek and it’s all a bit of nonsensical fun…he doesn’t get into talking about the real evil bastards that we sometimes come up against in real life. And be warned I will be talking about such people at the other end of this post.

For those who aren’t familiar with Crump’s work, he was a typical Kiwi (New Zealand) bushman who made a living hunting – in the main part, deer or possums on department of conservation land. Usually employed by DOC to keep an area pest free. He also did a stint in Australia shooting Crocodiles. He was always a lover of a good yarn – a story that is, not a ball of wool – and became a writer of semi-autobiographical novels. Many of the novels would have a central character who was the typical “Good Keen Man” – obviously based on his good self…..someone who was a bit of a scallywag…a rascal, but with a heart of gold.

The fame of his early books landed him a part in Toyota’s commercials for their rugged 4 wheel drive vehicles….and Crumpy got a new Toyota for his trouble. Link to the ad is below. He really punishes those Toyotas.

One of his books “Wild Pork and Watercress” was adapted into the movie “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”. It’s everything kiwi, it’s funny, well scripted, has some lovely shots of the New Zealand bush (wilderness) and is well worth a look. The link to the YouTube trailer is here…

Anyway…getting back to the subject of bastards….It got me thinking about some of the more unsavoury characters that I have had the displeasure to meet in my life so far. It also got me thinking that if there truly is a god, he or she must have been having an off day when they allowed such people to breathe the same air as the rest of us.

I don’t pretend to be perfect – I have my faults, some of which I am certainly not proud of – but compared to some of theses “Bastards I have met” – I am almost angelic.

There are people who are “bad” because of the way they have been raised – a combination of their environment and their family history never gave them a fair chance at being a “good” person. Unfortunately there are also people who are not only bad, but are evil to boot – by choice, because they want to be. They enjoy it and it gives them a feeling of power over the weak….and a feeling of mental superiority. I’m talking about the type of people who look just like you and me…they could be your neighbour, work mate….even a family member. They look ordinary….normal. BUT deep inside is a black heart and an evil – some would say insane – mind. They aren’t insane though. Everything they do is controlled and carefully thought through and when they get caught, as some of them inevitably do get caught, they profess their innocence, claim it’s a travesty of justice and that the world is against them because “no one in their right mind would do such a thing”.

I’m talking about people who – for example – pretend to be on a business trip far enough away from their chosen scene of the crime to put enough doubt in a jurors mind. They make sure that someone – preferably more than one person – has seen them in this place….and then speed home and murder their wife and child in the most brutal and violent way. Then later, when the bodies are discovered, by an unwitting relative, play the victim and publicly seek to avenge the deaths of his family – fully knowing all the time that his alibi is almost watertight and his chances of being found guilty minimal…..that is until DNA evidence catches up with him and firmly puts him at the scene of the crime in clothing contaminated by the victims blood and gore. This was an actual case here in NZ. Horrific.

Another undeniable “B” that I met is an extortionist – his victim was so traumatised that they committed suicide. He’s also a molester of young boys and he’s a murderer, having stabbed to death the father of a child he was molesting. He then escaped from prison at least once, taunting the police, the Department of Corrections and the government – yet thinks that HE should be given special rights and privileges over other criminals because he is of above average intelligence. He is also extremely vain and complained bitterly when the press showed photos of him without his wig. Again, a softly spoken, well read, intelligent person who can hold a pleasant conversation. Yet in an unguarded moment undeniably IS a very dangerous person….and a very nasty bastard indeed.

These people do exist. I have met them. Talked with them. The terrible thing is that if I hadn’t been aware of the details of the crimes committed I could easily have liked the person responsible for such vile actions. You see they are controlled, measured, normal, “reasonable” people – on the surface. They can be pleasant and behave in an acceptable way for 99.9% of the time…..and yet commit the most horrific atrocities. That’s why they are so terrifying. That they then, once caught and convicted – despite the mountain of evidence against them and the guilty verdict in one or more trials, tie up the justice system and spend thousands if not millions of dollars of public money on appeals and re-trials (because they know the system and how to manipulate it) makes me incredibly angry. This much needed public money would be better spent on the sick, the hungry and the homeless.

These criminals….the murderers and rapists are sometimes (but not always) put away in prison for lengthy periods because we no longer have the option of the death sentence. Capital punishment was last used in 1957 in New Zealand. Was abolished for murder in 1961 and was totally abolished – even for treason – in 1989. Here in New Zealand it costs around $100,000 per year to keep one person in prison. That’s just for your run of the mill ordinary prisoner…without the costs of any special treatment or appeals factored in. $100,000 each prisoner, per year – no wonder there’s no money for housing, hospitals and schools!

Back when I was working at my first “real job” after leaving school in England I saw a guy – a truck driver – who would regularly pick up and drop of goods at the depot where I worked. His name was Peter William Sutcliffe aka The Yorkshire Ripper. On the surface a quiet, almost shy, truckie who kept himself to himself….oh yes and just happened to be a serial killer. In 1981 he was found guilty of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder 7 others. Lord alone knows how many more….other potential victims he’d scoped out. He was given 20 concurrent life sentences so will never be released from prison. He will die behind bars. He’s already served 37 years and is only 72 years old….so could live for quite a few years yet…getting 3 meals a day, a roof over his head, the option of books from a library, education etc. all at the public’s expense.

These are just 3 examples of – to quote the title of Crumpy’s book – “Bastards I have met”. There are more, many more just like these men – unfortunately.

I consider myself to be a pacifist…..very much a live and let live type of guy who believes that criminals should be given a chance to rehabilitate and prove that they are worthy of a place in society….once they have paid their dues.

In a recent blog post…or was it on FaceBook?… I suggested that the USA may be an uncivilised country because they still have the death penalty. BUT men like that – like the ones I have mentioned above….I should say PEOPLE like that to be politically correct, (but they are usually men), people who are so devious and deviant and can’t be trusted to truly reform – have me thinking that maybe the death sentence should still be an option – even in so called civilised countries, in this day and age.

It’s a controversial subject and I know that any two people can be poles apart in their opinions about capital punishment. This is simply my opinion based on my own experience.

Again, I apologise if I have offended anyone with what I have written about in this post.

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes….

Just as “Man” can be destructive to nature, so can nature show its destructive powers. Such an incident was the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

The 7.8 quake struck at 10.47am on 3rd February 1931. The epicentre was 15 kilometres (just over 9 miles) to the north of the city of Napier and occurred at a depth of 20 kilometres (about 12 miles). Many buildings in the central business district of both Napier and its sister city Hastings collapsed immediately. The brick built facades of others fell into the streets killing and injuring passers by. Railway lines and tram lines buckled and bent like plastic. A total of 256 lives were lost and thousands were injured – most loss of lives occurred in Napier, with about a 3rd in Hastings. Nerves of locals were shredded by over 500 aftershocks within two weeks of the initial quake. The last recorded aftershock attributed to the February 1931 quake occurred in April 1934 (over 3 years later!). At 5.6 on the Richter Scale it was still a nasty and powerful reminder of the earths destructive powers. It remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.

Timber buildings, of which there were many, survived the initial quake but fell victim to fires which broke out soon after, leaving both cities looking like war zones. In Hastings, fire crews managed to control the fires, but in Napier they were not so fortunate. Because water pipes had been ruptured by the quake there was no water pressure and so no way to fight the fires, which raged unchecked.

The destructive force of the quake was also a creative force – uplifting some forty square kilometres of sea bed to become dry land – draining the Ahuriri Lagoon. This is now where the Hawke’s Bay regional airport stands.

The New Zealand Listener Magazine in 1941 (ten years after the devastating earthquake) was quoted as saying that “Napier had risen from the ashes like a phoenix”. It quoted the 1931 principal of Napier Girls’ High School as saying “Napier today is a far lovelier city than it was before”.

This was primarily thanks to the efforts of government appointed commissioners John Barton and Lachlan Bain Campbell who were sent to Napier to assist the Napier City Council in the rebuild. A review of building standards was also commissioned which found that many of New Zealand’s buildings were totally inadequate. As a result, most building of the 30’s and 40’s were heavily reinforced. Of course those standards have been surpassed several times since then.

During this time Art Deco architecture was all the rage and because the old city had been completely flattened, Napier (and parts of Hastings) were built primarily in this style – along with Spanish Mission architecture.

The preservation of these Art Deco architectural wonders all in the one locale has earned Napier the title of Art Deco Jewel of the Southern Hemisphere, and attracts tourists and Art Deco enthusiasts from around the world. This is particularly noticeable during the annual Art Deco Weekend Celebrations – which take place on the 3rd weekend of February to mark the beginning of the rebuild and rebirth of this Art Deco jewel – when the streets are jam packed with revelers wearing their best 1920’s and 1930’s costumes, hundreds of vintage cars and party-goers dancing in front of the Sound Shell on Marine Parade to the sounds of big band jazz music.

There are hundreds of events taking place over the days leading up to the weekend and over the weekend – some are official – organised through the Art Deco Society and some are unofficial. These include fly pasts and aerobatic displays, steam train rides, a parade of vintage cars, marching bands, theatre, music, costume competitions, old movies at the cinemas, soap-box derby for the kids, dances, guided art deco tours, lots of feasting and partying and so much more. BUT if you’re planning on a visit….book early as accommodation can be scarce.

For full details of this years celebrations please visit the official website of art deco napier. https://www.artdeconapier.com/Events/Napier+Art+Deco+Festival+2019/All+Events.html

I’ll leave you with some of my own photos of the annual Napier Art Deco Celebrations.

As usual, any comments are very much appreciated and will be replied to as soon as possible.

Old Rockers never die

I’m on a roll……3 posts in 24 hours! Back with a bang.

Last weekend I went to a rock concert. Three bands were playing – Dragon (a New Zealand band from the 1970’s- most of the original band members are dead either through drugs or cancer, leaving Todd Hunter as the only original, but lead singer since 2006 Mark Williams can still belt out all the old hits), Jefferson Starship (who used to be known as Jefferson Airplane) and Toto (who hasn’t heard their biggest hit “Africa”?).

It was certainly a blast from the past for me – particularly seeing Toto and Jefferson Starship, two of my favourite bands from the 70’s/80’s. Yes they have aged….the voices aren’t quite as strong or evenly pitched as they used to be….but they were still damn good. New Zealand seems to be the place that old rockers come to die…..or at least to play their last hurrah. But lead singer/guitarist of Jefferson Starship – David Freiberg just keeps on a-rockin’. He’s now in his 80’s and frankly moves a lot better than I do. He has no plans to retire and as long as he can keep going and doing what he loves….why not?

Photo below is by Sandie Ward Photography

David Freiberg of Jefferson Starship has never been to New Zealand and admits most of what he knows about the country comes from Lord of the Rings.

Freiberg started off singing in the coffee shops of San Francisco – that must seem like an eternity ago. San Francisco is still his home base.

It’s great to still be able to see the hero’s of my teen years up there on stage, but sad to realise that many of them are now in their 70’s and in Freiberg’s case 80’s so won’t be around for too much longer. I’m wondering who will replace the superstar bands of my youth? The bands of today don’t seem to have the legs to last the years. How many of today’s superstars will still be rocking at 80?

Meantime I’ll sit in my office, recline the chair, put an old vinyl 33 and a third on the turntable….Jefferson Starship’s “Freedom at Point Zero” maybe or Toto IV – close my eyes and let those years slide away. Long live Rock ‘n’ Roll and keep on keepin’ on!

The death of the letter…..

Is it just a sign of the times, is it progress, or is it a tragedy?

New Zealand Post Mailboxes…..disappearing from a town near you!

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the closure and subsequent franchising of the Post Office – more specifically of NZ Post Shops here in New Zealand….which in a way could lead to the ultimate death of the hand written letter.

Back in 1880 New Zealand had 850 post offices dotted around the country, serving the needs of the community. The population of NZ at that time was less than half a million people. At its peak there were 880 post offices. Now however, in 2018 and with a total population of a tick under 5 million, NZ Post are in the process of closing down their final 79, stand alone, post offices – and turning what’s left of the business over to the likes of pharmacies and supermarkets to run – as a franchise operation along side their existing business functions. The Post Office began life as a public service, but these days of commercialism and profit and loss – not to mention shareholders waiting for their dividends – it’s all about the money. And if the money isn’t rolling in, the service has to go…..sold to the highest bidder! No matter how incompetently it will be run, even if it brings about it’s eventual destruction.

I know that we have to move with the times – I’m not a Luddite – but I question how well the service will be run by supermarkets in particular when it comes to sending a letter or parcel to some obscure overseas destination. I see delays at the counter and delays in the service.  Already, home postal deliveries are reduced to only certain days of the week. Post boxes, on street corners, to mail your letters have been slowly and silently disappearing over the years (1300 have disappeared since 2008), in an obvious wind down of the postal service as a whole.

Part of the problem is that people don’t write letters these days, nor do they send as many greetings cards as they used to…..thanks to e-mail’s and e-cards. I am as much to blame – or possibly more to blame than most. More to blame? – you ask.  Let me explain my reasoning for saying this.

Back in pre-internet days I was a prolific letter writer. I had pen-pals all over the world – 52 of them in 48 different countries, on every continent except Antarctica. Some would only write a few times each year, but with others, letters would travel back and forth across continents with eager regularity. As I have mentioned in a number of my posts, one of my passions is travel, and letters to pen-pals was a wonderful way to make not just contacts, but friends around the world and to learn about other countries, about other ways of life, other customs. I believe that if we all had a friend in every country and knew of their lives and customs we’d be less likely to allow our leaders to declare war, or put in place economic sanctions – just to win a political point. When you strip everything back, we are all human beings, regardless of colour, religion, customs and politics.

This was in the mid 1980’s though, and sadly I have lost touch with most of them since then, partly because I moved from the UK to New Zealand almost 30 years ago. BUT these days, even those I do still keep in touch with, that communication is done by electronic means – the internet and e-mails , or via social media.

My wife and I met thanks to letters. We were pen-friends from opposite sides of the world – me in the UK and she in New Zealand. We started writing to one another over 33 years ago, met 32 years ago and have been together ever since – the last 30 of those years as husband and wife. More important for me than getting a book published – my letters brought me my greatest possible literary prize – my wife.  So for me particularly, the decline and slow and inevitable death of the Post Office and therefore the written letter, is a personal, sad event. 

Did anyone else meet their significant other via the magic of the hand written letter?