Monday, 28 September 2009

Talk To The Animals

painting by amy jordan

I left work just after six, and meandered through empty streets with vague thoughts of a stroll in the park before darkness fell.

Turning a corner, a bird sat waiting. A small brown lady blackbird, perched on a low wall. It caught my eye, so I said hello.

It hopped along the wall just ahead of me. Then it flew to a bush outside the next property. It waited for me to catch up, looked me square in the eye, then flew to the next tree.

As I walked, the blackbird swooped and fluttered ahead, a short distance each time, pausing while I drew level, then flying off again.

This, I thought, is just like Narnia (except colder). From bush to wall to guttering, that bird was definitely trying to lead me somewhere.

So I followed. It was not the first time a bird had brought me a message. I thought back to the time when my mum was dying.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'd flown back to England at my sister's request: "She's really in a bad way this time."

It was the second mercy dash I'd made that year. I'd come back to find nothing had changed - all the suggestions I'd made to my dad on how to make Mum's life easier had been ignored.

There was still no home help, still no medical intervention. No ramp installed for a wheelchair, no commode - even though she could barely walk - and no bed brought downstairs. Worse, no alteration to meal routines to accommodate the fact she could barely chew or swallow. It was just meat and two veg, the same as it ever was, and screams of abuse when she failed to eat them. Screams of abuse when she didn't make it to the toilet on time, too. No concessions had been made at all for her frailty. My father, the coward and the bully, the stupid, selfish man, simply refused to accept she was ill.

My mother, the eternal victim, thought it was her due, and suffered in silence while my father and I battled around her. I raged with him from the moment I arrived to try and get him to release his iron grip on her life, but he would not budge.

As her spouse, he was her next of kin and legal guardian and without his permission I could not involve social services in her care.

He resented my "interfering". "I'm not having those people in my house," he'd spit.

Sometimes I wondered if I was one of "those people" too.

My mother was too ill and defeated to stand up to him. "It's not worth it, he gets so angry." She'd given up years ago. She so badly needed help. I fought and fought.

I went for a walk one night, to escape the house of misery. My feet paced automatically along streets I'd roamed as a child, as familiar to me then as they'd ever been though it had been seventeen years since I'd moved away. In a broad tree-lined alley next to a church hall, I heard a rustle in the dusty bushes close to my feet. I stopped, and peered down to see what had made the noise.

It was a dove. A small white dove. Just sitting there.

I stared at it. It stared at me.

I edged closer. How near could I get before it took fright and escaped? It drew back. I inched nearer still, and put my hand out towards it. In a sudden whirl of feathers it tried to fly away. But it couldn't. It flapped a few feet off the ground, then fell back to the floor, its chest heaving.

Its wings weren't broken. There wasn't any blood. What was wrong with this little bird that it couldn't fly?

I knelt in the dirt and for a while we watched each other silently. The bird is clearly damaged, I thought, and I can't leave it here for a fox or a cat to get. I have to help it. I have to take it home and phone the RSPCA.

Sorry, I informed the dove telepathically, I know you're afraid but I am going to have to pick you up and pop you into my jacket so we can get you sorted out.

I reached out again. Again it tried to get away. We repeated the manoeuvre a few times. It occurred to me if I did manage to catch it I could damage it even more. I carried on anyway. Eventually the dove scuttled under another bush, completely out of reach.

I sat on my haunches, and thought very hard.

A few minutes later, I got up, stretched my creaking legs, thanked the bird for the lesson, wished it all the luck in the world, and carried on walking.

It was painful to leave it behind, but I had just figured out you can't help things that don't want to be helped.

Some things are simply out of your hands. Some things are not your responsibility. You can't fix someone's life - even when it's badly wrong - if they are choosing to live that way. You just have to do what you can, and let the rest go.

The next day I told mum I could no longer fight her battles for her. I told her I would back her all the way but if she wanted things to change at home she would have to pick up the phone and call social services herself.

She was terrified, but she did.

I have never admired her more.

Shame it was too little too late.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Anyway, that was not my only bird experience - my friend Noeline once called me a goose.

The blackbird hopped and fluttered along the road until it reached a sludge-coloured building. There, it hid in a bush out front, and refused to play the 'leading Weasel down the road' game anymore.

I glanced up to see what the building was.

It was a diagnostic medical laboratory.


Cats talk to me too, but usually only to say things like 'Worship me for I am beautiful', or 'Where is my food?'

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Time Travel

the future is only a quantum mechanic objective basic probability anyway

Saturday. BK phones.

"Are you excited about the clocks going forward tonight?" he says. "I am. I've already put the clock on my bedside table forward so I don't forget to do the others."

"The clocks aren't going forward tonight, idiot!" I say. "They go forward in October. They don't go forward this early. Do they?"

"Duh, yes they do."

"But I'm working at a newspaper! I disseminate vital information to the public! How come I didn't know this?"

"Because you're an idiot? I've been looking forward to it for weeks. It's summer, innit!"

"I refuse to believe you. They always go forward in October. Why would they suddenly change it to September?"

"The clocks are going forward. Tonight. Really."

"You're winding me up. I know what you're like. This is a trick. Instead of believing you, I shall verify this with an independent source, because I am a journalist and learning journalism has made me clever."

I forget to check.

Waking on Sunday, I remember this. Now, while I am pretty sure what day it is, I am not 100% certain of the time. This is a disconcerting feeling. My clock says twenty to eleven... but is it?

I text BK.

"I 4got2 check!"

"It's 11.42am on Monday, they decided to skip a whole day this year too."

"Pls don't make this worse for me. U kno I am easily confused."

"Wooo I exist in the future."

"I think I just slipped in2 the fourth dimension. Stop messin wiv my brain."

"You never really existed in this one. It's 11.42ish on Sunday, the year is 2012."

"I shall wait 2 hear wot the little man in the radio has to say about it thank u. Meanwhile I shall carry on in Weaseltime. Chances r nobody wil notice anyway."

I switch the radio on.


Monday, 21 September 2009

The Office

My first day of work experience went well. I interviewed a rather spunky (and please note, British readers, spunky means something very different in New Zealand) young violinist, and a pharmacist, wrote two reasonable stories, and scored a big slice of chocolate cake. If only every day could be like that.

The last place I was at was like this:

But this place is like this:

So I think I'll be ok.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Term To End All Terms

what doesn't kill you makes you really miserable

Thirteen beautiful people started out on this challenge. Only eight of you remain. Of the eight gorgeous ladies and gentlemen standing here before me, only one can go on to be Invercargill's Next Top Journo. Who will it be?

I rather expected Friday to be a day of celebration. After all, it was the last day of term 3. If you can survive term 3, you can survive anything the real job can throw at you, we were told. And there we were - we'd survived it.

The fourteen stories got done. So did the police story, the court story, the four local government stories, a hideously time-consuming page layout assessment, four photography assessments, the research dossier and, on the last day itself, two photography practicals in the morning and a two hour sub-editing test in the afternoon.

(There were shorthand tests too, but we won't talk about that).

The pressure didn't stop all term. My more learned classmates told me that getting a degree was never this hard. I said, "I always thought I was too dumb to do a degree." They laughed hollowly and said "You could do a degree with your eyes closed. A degree is a piece of piss compared with this."

Two more people dropped out. I nearly dropped out too. Last week, with two sports stories, one radio story, one police story, two local government stories, the research dossier and the page layout assessment still to do, I hit the wall. I just wanted to go home where Flatmate and/or My Lovely Sister could give me cuddles and cups of tea and tell me everything would be all right. The only thing that stopped me quitting right then was the fact I would've burst into tears while telling the tutors I was on the verge of fleeing. There is NO WAY I am letting those buggers* see me cry.

And so reaching Friday should've been an achievement. Instead it felt very flat. After the pens went down at the end of the subbing test, three of the Gang of Four trailed to the pub downcast. One started crying into her ginger beer. The other had no money, so I bought him a couple of pints, but I don't have any money either. We sat there shellshocked for a while, and then went home.

Not even the delirous joy of America's Next Top Model being on that night helped ease the pain of the end of term 3.

The second lot of work experience starts on Monday. I'm staying in Invercargill for this one. I'll be at a community newspaper where I hope I'll be able to play at sub-editing rather than be forced to do reporterish things. Next term, we have a couple more radio stories to write, another court story, some stories for the internet, an obituary and a feature and then, my friends, it will all be over and I can go back to being a nice safe underachieving office temp.

But first I plan to spend the summer lolling traumatised in the sun.

*buggers in the nicest possible sense of course

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Don't Mention Susan Boyle

Have you seen this?

Nicked from Ten Lizard Tongues. As he puts it:

Simonova is the winner of the Ukraine's version of Britain's/America's got talent.

While that just sounds silly, you must watch this.

She tells stories, with sand. With fluid strokes, striking images, and subtle progressions from one scene to the next, she tells the story of Germany's occupation of the Ukraine during the war.

Don't let any of those things put you off. It is stunning.

(Oh, and "this" really made me "laugh").

Friday, 18 September 2009

Mind The Hamster

It was a hamster, or some other small cute furry mammal.

I picked it up and put it in my backpack. I wanted to protect it, keep it safe from harm. Someone might step on it, or there might be a hungry cat around. I would take it home and look after it.

As the day went on I got busier and busier, and the backpack got fuller and fuller. Things I needed - vital information, folders, newspapers, interesting pamphlets, stuff to take home - all got crammed in. Every time I put the bag down I dropped it with a thump: it was so heavy. Packed to bursting. Only when I had jammed in the last folder there was room for and struggled to do up the zip did I remember the hamster. Would it be all right?

Oh, I'm sure it would.

I got home and dumped the bag on the floor. Guiltily, I hoped the hamster was okay. I noticed a strange smell coming from the backpack, but persuaded myself it might be an apple that had got squashed or something. The outlines of all the stuff I'd crammed in there bulged through the nylon, threatening to burst the seams. I didn't want to think about how the hamster might've fared. It wouldn't have had much room.

Best not to think about it, eh.

I busied myself with something else for a while, but eventually I had to bite the bullet. I picked up the bag. Unzipped it. The smell was definitely coming from inside. My heart sank. I grasped one of the folders. The bag was so tightly packed it didn't want to budge. I tugged it this way and that. The folder slid out.

Smeared across the bottom was - hamster innards.

And then I woke up.

I love the symbolism of dreams. In this instance, I suspect I may have been the hamster. Nice allegory. Thanks, subconscious.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Room For Rent

don't mess with the judge. really.

This week the diploma class uncovered the sparkling world of court reporting.

We traipsed along to the courthouse and sat there for an hour or so wondering what the hell was going on as a never-ending procession of hapless souls in jeans and hoodies washed in and out while people in suits and uniforms mumbled and shuffled papers and sometimes the judge threw a few insults at the hapless souls and then it was time to go back to class to write about what we had heard.

Due to the bad acoustics and all the mumbling and the building work outside I hadn't actually heard much but my main impression was that the hapless souls don't stand a chance in the white man's system.

When I glanced at the court list in the paper the next day, I was surprised to see Weird Guy's name in there.

Last time I'd talked to him he'd been jovial, and I'd thought how sweet he looked when he smiled.

Three and a half months for aggravated assault and two counts of theft on the 3rd and the 9th of June.

The poor, daft bastard.

Thursday, 10 September 2009


i went 2 grammer skule u no

From: Tutor Smartypants
To: Everyone in the Diploma in Journalism class
Sent: Thu 10/09/2009 12:07
Subject: Only a week to go

Please (please) keep an eye on the following as you prepare stories before work experience:

Use past tense (eg: Southland had) only when you’re paraphrasing someone speaking, or subjunctive future tense (eg: Southland would). If you’re stating a fact, use present tense.

Enjoy your Style Book. It’s the blue covered booklet provided in March. Winner of most recurring problem of 2009: Dates style: September 9. From September 9 to September 11. No point saying 2009 if it’s obvious.

Redundancy: eg: Later this month = this month. If it wasn’t later, then it must have already happened…?

Names, facts should be checked and correct before saying they are checked and correct on your story plan. Seriously.

Please read the comments on your stories. They’re there to help get your stories to a publishable standard.

Cheers, and the warmest of warm regards
The Broken Record in the Neighbouring Office

From: One Fine Weasel
To: Tutor Smartypants
Sent: Thu 10/09/2009 12:16
Subject: RE: Only a week to go

Dear Broken Record
We are starting to get you down, aren’t we?
Sorry etc. I decided yesterday to dedicate my first book to you if that’s any consolation.

From: Tutor Smartypants
To: One Fine Weasel
Sent: Thu 10/09/2009 12:24
Subject: RE: RE: Only a week to go

Dear concerned reader
Tenses, par 2.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


i believe

Man I shouldn't be allowed near computers when I've got PMT. Sorry about the previous rant.

It was a much better day today, even though I do appear to have lost my mini stapler.

As a big fan of stationery I am devastated to find that the tiny paper-fastening friend that has travelled around the world with me a lot more than once has gone awol. I might have thrown it out when I had my purge at the start of the year but why would I have kept the box of mini-staples?

While I was hunting for it, though, I found the following magnetic poetry composition. I write all my magnetic poetry compositions down in my dedicated magnetic poetry notebook which I keep in my stationery drawer along with my special paperclips.


to feel this good

is easy



take time to be you

live the seasons

believe in squirrels


look at a smile

Yes. Especially the bit about squirrels, eh Eve.

I'm not weird about stationery, honest.

Sunday, 6 September 2009


get me out of here

Thursday: I spend the evening at school, taking advantage of the deserted newsroom to get some work done.

During the day, the newsroom is filled with laughter and chatter and pleasing distractions. I embrace the pleasing distractions because they make me forget how unhappy I am.

I like writing, but I do not enjoy reporting. I have learnt this year writing and reporting are two very different skills.

To be a reporter you need balls of steel. You need to ruthlessly pursue whatever it is you are after. You need to sweet-talk people into doing what you want without feeling rude for intruding. You need a sense of urgency. You need to be able to battle bureaucracy without losing heart. You need to be able to juggle a million different things and stay sane. You need to remain untouched by what you witness. You need to dismiss any thoughts that whisper 'But in a hundred years' time, this won't matter'. Ergo, to be a reporter, you need to be Not Like Me.

Reporters plunge bravely into the depths of our absurd, fucked up world and pounce gleefully on interesting gewgaws to hold up to the light. I would rather not get sucked into that vortex. I don't like it in there. It just depresses me. I prefer being happy. I was happy sorting mail for the post office. I was happy shelving books at the library and doing the displays. I was happy building walls and digging compost heaps as a WWOOF volunteer. Notice the lack of telephone in those occupations, and the lack of complication. The work I like doesn't involve people. Too much people and I run away screaming.

Reporting is all people.

Invercargill is also adding to my desperation. I still haven't found a way to like it. It is too small, too conservative, too joyless. It is suffocating. The wide blank uniform streets are lifeless. The nearest beach is a crowded car park, a busy race track. My quiet spot down by the river consoles me sometimes, but most of the time I stay in my room. There is no real reason to go out. I like watching the birds in the tree outside my window. We don't bother each other, and we get along fine.

I feel like my soul is quietly dying, but I must finish this course. Only three months to go. I have spent much of my life running away from unpleasant things and now I need to prove something to myself. I need to know I can grunt it out. So I organise my filing, arrange an interview for Saturday, write up two stories for the tutor to mark tomorrow. I make a list of all the stories I need to write in the next fortnight – two sports, one police, one court, one council, and two for radio. It is a lot of work and a phenomenal amount of people to bother for a couple of thousand words that won't matter.

The research dossier needs to be finished too, and there is the usual swotting for the weekly current affairs quiz. And three photography assignments, two photography practical tests and a sub-editing assessment on the last day of term. Then it is straight into the second lot of work experience.

And let's not forget shorthand practice, because those exams are looming. I am woefully behind, 60wpm when I should be nearing 80. I am so behind on shorthand I do not actually think I will pass the diploma because of it. I try not to think about that.

I glance at the clock – it is half past ten. I should go. I pack up my bag and start the fifteen minute walk home, deep in thought. My heart feels very, very heavy.

Nearing my house, I hear a voice.

“Are you ok?”

It is not late. It is not raining. I am not displaying visible signs of distress. I am just walking home. I am confused. Has the day's misery escaped my body, is it floating round me like an aura?

A man has stopped his car and wound down his window to ask the question. He has driven up behind me. I’d been so absorbed in my thoughts I hadn't noticed.

I’m angry at being bothered when I’m minding my own business. Angry that he’s asked me that question. I don’t like the implication that I’m too weak and delicate or just plain crazy to be walking around on my own after dark.

I turn to look at him in case it is someone I know. It isn’t.

“Yes thank you,” I snarl without breaking my stride. What’s with the thank you for Christ’s sake? Oh, my mother trained me well.
The car rolls down the road, keeping pace beside me.

“Do you want a lift?”

Why the fuck would I want a lift? So now, as well as being weak and vulnerable and/or crazy, I’m also dumb enough to get into a car with some random man I don’t know? Doesn't he read the newspapers? Everyone knows that's how women get murdered. Or does he think I’m a prostitute? Do prostitutes round here wear jeans, flat boots, warm sensible jackets, unattractive woolly hats and carry backpacks?


I shout it, without meaning to. It is a ‘no’ laden with ‘do you think I’m fucking stupid or something?

I am suddenly furious. I am steamingly, stinkingly livid. I have just about had enough of all the shit in the world today. I have walked alone at night in every place I have ever lived - bigger towns and cities than this, overflowing with crims and weirdos and drunkards – and I've rarely had cause to feel afraid. Whenever I did sense danger, I either took steps to protect myself or just got the hell out of the way. I am not reckless or unaware of the risks, but I won't be shackled by fear. In all those towns and cities, nothing bad ever happened to me. I did not expect it to. Only in Invercargill have I ever felt nervous about being out at night. The town’s soul is ugly enough in the daytime. At night there is something really unsettling about its silent, dark streets. And now this man has appeared from Invercargill's shadows purely to piss me off. It is the last straw. How dare he stop and ask me if I want a lift? Even if it is well-intentioned, is he too stupid to realise how intimidating his question sounds coming from a stranger late at night? Just as I am considering walking over to his car and kicking great big satisfying dents the door to teach him a lesson, he accelerates away.

I take a note of his registration plate and phone the police station to let them know there is a man driving around town bothering women.

Later, I feel guilty for doing so. He was probably just being chivalrous. But that’s what you get when you catch me on a bad day. Blame the feminists.

I can't wait to leave Invercargill. It is doing my head in.