Northern Advocate Column

Trending this century…

mini-iron-bucket-500x500In the wake of what’s hip and hot for 2019, it might be worth taking a somewhat longer view. How about the next 81 years? Here are some predictions for what will be trending this century: 

The bucket. Not the flimsy plastic ones, but those big galvanised steel ones that used to be essential on the farm. You can use one to transport garden debris to the compost bin, and compost to the garden; collect water from a downpipe or leaking guttering; transport food scraps to chickens or pigs. You can even pee in one (dilute with water for a nutrient boost for the garden). Buy one of these family heirlooms now before they’re selling for hundreds of dollars. 

Our own two feet. With petrol prices destined to rise, it’ll become common sense to swap the hours we work each week paying for a car and petrol for walking instead. We might be surprised how far we can go and how fit we’ll get. And as walking trends, so will roadside accommodation make its comeback. Medieval Christians used to go on pilgrimages on foot across Europe to see holy relics, like Christ’s foreskin or Saint Anthony’s tongue. They needed places to stay at the end of a day’s walking. This was big business. In New Zealand, we’ll probably want to walk to the beach, the closest thing to a pilgrimage for most of us. Forget freedom camping, then, freedom walking will be trending this century. 

Fruit and nut trees. Perennial agriculture that grows food for a local population is probably the best thing we can do to mitigate the effects of climate change and achieve a sustainable food growing culture in the twilight of the fossil fuel era. If done right, food-producing trees can be planted quite densely. Their foliage, root system and decaying leaf matter retains water in the land. With all the tree crops, ladders will also be trending well. 

Second-hand. You’ll know that second-hand is already trending if you frequent charity shops. Getting over the need to buy things new saves money. Many of us are already sold on this low-spend strategy for the good life, but as it gets more expensive to bring quality stuff into the country what’s here already will need to go around further. Second-hand markets in every town and suburb will likely appear and thrive. 

A spiritual text. It’s said that every home used to have a Bible, and then a lot of empty bookshelf space. The Bible was the go-to reading material, you dipped back into it again and again. In these days of information overload, with an infinite variety of things you could read, this century will see more people wanting special books they return to for comfort and wisdom. The Bible, the Koran, the complete works of J. K. Rowling, might suffice for some, but a mash-up of ecological science, practical food growing tips and accumulated philosophical wisdom is what a 21st-century secularist like myself needs. It would need to have as much poetry and story-telling power as the Bible to satisfy a spiritual thirst. Someone just needs to write it. 

Doing nothing. As one of my spiritual mentors, John Lennon, once put it: “I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch them roll.” He was referring to the merry-go-round in Central Park, New York, that he loved to sit and watch. Call it meditating, call it taking time out, call it mindfulness, but doing very little while taking in with all our senses the world around us is sometimes all we need. And if we stop and look we might see that there’s beauty and wonder in a well-made bucket sitting under an apple tree. 

 

Standard
Northern Advocate Column

Jacinda Ardern and Theresa May chat at No.10

SPBKP4BE4RCGTA4RCAPNBRN3OU

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met British Prime Minister Theresa May at No.10. Here’s what they might have said…

Theresa May: Welcome. Good to see you. How’s the baby? Loved that thing you did at the United Nations. Brilliant.

Jacinda Ardern: Thank you. Neve’s great. She’s at home this trip.

May: Lovely. So what brings you to London?

Ardern: Ah… well… to see you…  And then to Davos for the World Economic Forum. I’m speaking about climate change.

May: That’s right, you’re big on climate change. Good for you. Is that why you wanted to see me?

Ardern: Um… no… it’s because we’d like to negotiate a free trade agreement.

May: Who would?

Ardern: New Zealand.

May: Oh… you know things are very hectic at the moment with this Brexit mess.

Ardern: A free trade deal with us would be something positive.

May: Might be easier to negotiate I suppose. What’s the size of your economy?

Ardern: Around $270 billion NZ dollars. 

May: Did you know the size of the German economy is $5 trillion? And that’s in US dollars. Curses to Cameron and his referendum. Bloody democracy! What a disaster… 

Ardern: What we’d like is to secure better market access for our dairy, lamb, wine and…

May: Oh, yes, I love your sauvignon blancs. Been hitting them hard lately actually. But what’s in it for us?

Ardern: We could make exceptions to our ban on foreigners buying land and houses. And holidays, we love hosting British tourists. We could make it easier for you to come to New Zealand. No airport taxes…

May: Mmm… it’s a long way to New Zealand… aren’t we going to be burning up lots of jet fuel, I thought you wanted to reduce carbon emissions?

Ardern: Well, yes.

May: Come to think of it, we have our own farmers and the French make some pretty good wine. They’re a lot closer to us.

Ardern: I know, I know… but it’s what I have to say… Everywhere I go, it’s will you take our dairy products, our meat, our trees, come and visit our beautiful country… I feel like a fraud sometimes.

May: There, there, it’s tough being the leader of a country. I didn’t vote for Brexit, yet here I am. I’m sure you’re doing good work. Tell us more about your trip to Davos.

Ardern: It’s a bit of coup, really. I’m on the climate change panel with Al Gore. And David Attenborough, we love him in New Zealand!   

May: Sounds delightful. I can’t go, unfortunately, this damn Brexit thing again.

Anyway, would chat more, but I’ve got a meeting with the Russian ambassador next. We might need a trade deal with them, they’ve got lots of oil and gas you know. 

Hey, we should do our next meeting by video hook-up. Then you could stay in New Zealand and not use all that jet fuel. Wouldn’t that be great?

Ardern: Ah… yeah… but face-to-face is so much better don’t you think?

May: Just a thought, it’s so confusing sometimes, this climate change thing, I never know what we should be doing. Do you follow Trump on Twitter? God, he’s a laugh. Wish I could get away with some of the stuff he says.

Ardern: No, I don’t follow him. My deputy prime minister usually keeps me updated though.

Thanks for your time Prime Minister. 

Standard
Poetry

BIG LOVE SONGS

Big Love Songs - Cover

“With its raw honesty and starvation-rations of irony, Big Love Songs is entirely different to anything I’ve read lately. It is in-yer-face poetry, but it is also poetry that aches and is vulnerable. It is poetry that, like Northland citrus fruit, manages to be both bitterly pithy and sweetly personal.”
– Elizabeth Morton, Landfall Review Online

“One of the greatest achievements of this collection is how Gunson draws the reader in and creates this sense of intimacy… If you’re love-sick, Big Love Songs knows how it feels and is right there with you.”
– Joshua Morris, Poetry NZ

“These poems flow nicely as a group. They are light – not lite, definitely not – and a pleasure to read, combining as they do serious emotion with almost a playful presentation.”
– Mary Cresswell, Takahe

“Gunson is deliberately crafting poems of elegance and restraint which, when read alone, pale somewhat into insignificance when compared to the cumulative effect of reading several, one after another…”
– Vaughan Rapatahana, A Fine Line, NZPS

To purchase Big Love Songs for $25 (including postage) send an email to vaughangunson@gmail.com

Standard
Northern Advocate Column

The philosophy of walking

Philosophy_of_Walking_cover_1.png250x342.881944444Alas, we can’t all run as fast as Beauden Barrett (or Owen Franks either probably). Many of us have declined the option to run at all, not since the dark-remembered days of cross country at school.

Rather than the huff and bluster of running, most of us prefer the elegant art of walking, with perhaps a little polite panting if we walk up a hill. There’s a philosophy to it, too, according to Frédéric Gros, whose book, A Philosophy of Walking (2014), was a bestseller in France.

Taking a cue from the ideas developed fully in his book, here, in truncated form, are some possibilities for thinking philosophically about walking. They might inspire you to walk more or think more about walking.

Walking is not a sport. No rules, no competition, no training or extraordinary ability, just one step after another; anyone can do it.

Freedom. Walking is freedom from all the transactions of life. The longer you walk, the longer you escape. Directionless, or with a specific goal, you are free until you arrive or return to where you started. Walking to work is not work.

Nothing to it. A beach traversed from point to point is pointless, for walking’s sake only. Nothing is made or earned from walking.

Simple joys. Walking is the joy of breathing and a gentle breeze on your face. The greatest pleasure, a clear winter sky, or tiny flowers observed in a crack of concrete.

Silence. Walking silences the chatter. You can’t read the newspaper when you’re walking, or even your phone, really. You must pause to send a text or scroll your newsfeed. Walking can be used to edit your life; reducing the noise.

Inspiration. A problem pondered indoors is a problem solved after a good walk; our unconscious minds doing the work while we walk.

Slowness. The sages of history have all taught it: slow down. Walking is slow, you don’t get anywhere fast. No spending of time, or saving it, but being in time, savouring it. A day walking is a long day, you’ll live longer walking.

Together. Walking with another person is social. Your speed must adjust, you feel compelled to talk, to listen. Walking, however, makes the silences comfortable.

Alone. Walking alone you find your own rhythm, your hidden self that no one else knows. Walking alone you possess the world, with other people you share it. Both are necessary.

Repetition. You can repeat your route, walk the same path over and over. It’s always changing though; you notice the different light, the changing seasons. Walking the same path balances our desire for novelty, for the new; there’s serenity in the familiar.

Peace. Walking takes away the need to justify yourself to yourself; the physical rhythm of your limbs moving overrides the anxious monologue in your head. Walking empties the trash.

Monotonous. Waking is monotonous, but it’s not boring. “Boredom,” says Gros “is immobility of the body confronted with emptiness of mind.” The activity of walking pulls the mind out of its lethargy. If you’re bored, walk somewhere. You can’t be bored walking, like you can be bored in a car—have you noticed this?

Prison. Being stationary, cooped-up, can make us tetchy, our minds roaming in our heads; too conscious. When we imprison people for crimes, we take away their ability to walk freely. Perhaps if we want to rehabilitate we should make them take long walks, back to society.

Afterwards. Walking long and far, through town, on a track through the bush, along a sandy coast, eventually tires. Your walk comes to an end. What follows is contentment, a pleasant weariness, a satisfaction that comes from having moved.

Gravity. You never escape gravity when you walk, one foot is always on the ground. You are of the earth when you walk. Running or jumping tries to defy gravity; it can be done for a brief moment only. For all its drama, its observable wonder, like a bird flying, it’s not our place to run and jump for long. As we age walking is all we do, until we don’t walk anymore.

Standard
Poetry

The dead and the detritus

There are catacombs beneath
aaaaaaathe terror and jazzy nights
aaaaaaaof Paris, which you can pay

to visit, like Monet’s soft lilies
aaaaaaaor the monstrous halls
aaaaaaaof the Louvre.

From the careful through-the-ages layering
aaaaaaaof femur and skull, something
aaaaaaathat moves, still.

 

Published in Fast Fibres 5, 2018.

Standard
Northern Advocate Column

Anthony Bourdain: artistry, doubt and dead octopus

anthonybourdainsicily

Stone dead, half-frozen octopus dropped from a small fishing boat into the waters off the coast of Sicily. Plummeting to their second deaths, with all the metaphorical weight of a dead albatross. All for one man, who’s snorkelling below, filmed by an attendant camera crew. 

In the wetsuit, Anthony Bourdain, writer, ex-cook and maker of original, funny, dozen-thoughts-per-minute television. He’s in Sicily for season two of Parts Unknown (2013). He’s meant to be catching this ocean delicacy for real, not being fed them from above like an aquarium-caged sea mammal. The local restaurant owner orchestrating the sham obvious didn’t get the memo that for Anthony Bourdain authenticity is everything.

Underwater, with a snorkel in his mouth, Bourdain, the charismatic, natural communicator is unable to say a word. The anger he’s feeling cannot be expressed in a series of trademark expletives. Just the silence of the pathetic deceit reigning down on him. He’s powerless to stop the bullshit.

It’s through the narration added afterwards in the editing studio that Bourdain gets to speak the horror of what he experienced. “I’m no marine biologist,” he deadpans, “but I know dead octopus when I see one… Strangely, everyone else pretends to believe the hideous sham unfolding before our eyes, doing their best to ignore the blindingly obvious.”

As octopi thud lifelessly onto the seafloor, he continues the despairing monologue: “I’ve never had a nervous breakdown before, but I tell you from the bottom of my heart, something fell apart down there, and it took a long, long time after the end of this damn episode to recover.”

This wasn’t just a tragic-comic scene, a good story for his television show, it was an existential crisis of monsters-from-the-deep proportions. The look on his face back on shore said it all.

Faith in humanity was at stake. Faith in himself. It’s like those falling dead octopus are Bourdain’s own burdens, mistakes and regrets, piling on top of humanity’s greater follies, from gluttonous overfishing to run-of-the-mill everyday media fakery. And here he was complicit in it all. That’s one hell of a guilt load. So Bourdain gets blindly and sourly drunk on gin cocktails. It’s his birthday.

This story, both painfully real and artfully presented for fist-punching dramatic effect, is what Bourdain could crystalise in a few minutes of TV. There are countless scenes from No Reservations and Parts Unknown that make you laugh out loud and want to cry at the same time. Have you doubting our very worth as a species one minute, then making you believe eating grilled sardines at a bistro with good company is the greatest joy possible. 

As a cook, Bourdain might not have been an artiste, but as a maker of hour-long television, he was in my mind an artist. The flawed, witty, passionate man that he presented to us on screen was like a fresh oyster off the rocks compared to the bland fast-food celebrities we’re so often forced to consume. I was a fan.

From this distance his suicide is unfathomable, an act lacking any easy explanation. We’re left with a big tidal pool of doubt. 

Which is the feeling you often got watching his shows filmed in places like Beirut, Jerusalem, Libya, Detroit, Moscow or the Congo. In his later shows, when he was more serious about what he was doing, Bourdain never gave easy answers to the world’s problems and conflicts. He didn’t have them, and he didn’t pretend to have them. Like all good sceptics, he put the onus on us to figure it all out. 

In a recent interview, he said: “I don’t like comfortable conclusions. Life’s not like that. I’d rather leave people hanging even with a lingering doubt or a feeling of being unsettled.” And yet his brutal honesty, natural empathy for ordinary people, and unwavering internationalism was itself a kind of answer. It must be part of the reason so many people around the world have voiced their sadness at his passing.

Standard
Poetry

Spooning

Old married couples still spoon.
Even more often on winter mornings
—in fact, they’ve looked forward
to embracing the pleasures of a winter bed.
Which is not to say they don’t enjoy
a summer bed, when sheet and duvet,
somehow, end up knotted together
on the floor.

Old married couples get older.
Now lying parallel on their backs,
like stone effigies in churches of kings
and queens, who, after lights out, unlock
their arms from hard evocative folds
and reach across to gently nudge
each other, and suggestive of
so much more.

Standard