Wednesday, 31 August 2016
When you finally make the decision to leave the family home and move into an apartment, you are immediately released from a great many of the decisions you once made with regard to property maintenance. You may now find yourself dealing with a Body Corporate and the day to day matters associated with the management and well-being of your new home are managed by a committee. In New Zealand, under the Unit Titles Act 2010 these committees, once mysterious to you, have wide ranging powers and generally speaking an equally wide ranging list of obligations depending upon the scope of the duties that have been delegated to them. Initially, as we did, you might find the whole process as unfamiliar as swimming through treacle. If your new home is in a block of nine or less apartments you are not legally obliged to have a committee at all but larger complexes are certainly expected to unless the owners specifically agree not to do so – and even that decision has to be done by special resolution. Nothing is simple it would seem. Overall there are probably far more good reasons than bad for forming a committee simply because it can provide a relatively seam-free arrangement for coping with all management matters. Well, that’s the general idea at least. We were completely new to this particular style of group ownership but we rapidly learned that BC committees more often than not appear to exist in a relentless vortex of disgruntlement together with a paucity of would-be serving volunteers. Usually you have to be an owner in order to serve on the committee in the first place although surprisingly it is not always necessary to actually live on the premises. In fact some rules allow for you to simply be the Director of a company owning the apartment; you might never go anywhere near the place. After two years in residence, I became a committee member with great expectations only to find that at least half of the debated business was essentially trivial and seemed to revolve directly around the hitches and glitches of living rather closer together than New Zealanders were accustomed to. If I had thought the matter through more carefully I suppose that might have been what I would have expected. I found myself a member as a result of making an unwise suggestion at an AGM. I proposed the regular circulation of a newsletter to make residents feel more involved, and help newcomers get to know their neighbours. I cannot say that this suggestion was met with much enthusiasm in fact one person, already firmly ensconced within the organising group treated the idea with undisguised disdain and recommended that I get out and actually talk to my neighbours. He added that personally he was quite content not to get too friendly with others and was more than happy in his own skin. I felt immediately rebuked but nevertheless it seemed that making any suggestion or in fact any remark at all was to be seen as possible committee material by the anxious and diminishing sitting members. Over my more than forty years in New Zealand I had served on a number of organising bodies, mostly to do with matters of education and so I was reasonably familiar with the procedures involved. However, what I was not familiar with was how to compare the merits of one roofing replacement company against another, how frequently carpark walls should be painted or how to go about launching a fire evacuation plan. But as previously pointed out most of the discussion time was to be spent debating the unacceptable habits of the ginger cat in row four with a penchant for desecrating his neighbour’s geraniums and the relentless barking of the miniature poodle in row two whose owner had promised to take him for training just as soon as she could organise it. At the time these irksome breaches of the rules seemed bewilderingly complicated to me and looking back now the reason for this would appear to be that we were in the unhappy position of not really having a properly appointed building manager. Instead we had a quasi-manager, a resident who maintained that he was not really the building manager at all and certainly did not want anyone approaching him in that particular capacity, particularly if they were women. His antagonism towards men was marginally less pronounced. For those among us who did not live on the premises but simply rented out their property, this was not much of a problem. For the rest of us it often was. On the positive side our semi manager was both skilled and proficient in solving problems like how to cut down the huge electricity bills by adjusting the lighting system and he was able to analyse complex engineering problems rapidly and with efficiency. We females learned to live with his foibles and avoid attracting his enmity but we breathed a collective sigh of relief when he resigned, bought another property and decided to move on. It was unexpectedly liberating to employ a `real’ building manager, one whom we knew would not reprimand us for alerting him to minor problems. He must have wondered why we often had tears of gratitude in our eyes as he dealt with complaints of noisy parties, recalcitrant canines and illicit laundry drying on balconies. After my mere two years as a BC committee member I have formed a number of firm opinions about the job. One is that it should be mandatory for those who serve to actually be residents. Another is that the rules of the entity be adhered to even though some seem petty or irrelevant. This particular belief of mine is not universally shared and one neighbour has been known to voice views that hover distinctly to the contrary, maintaining that it is stifling to live in a situation governed by too many petty regulations. And maybe others feel similarly but my own attitude is that if, over time, a concrete and tangible feeling emerges that a particular rule is no longer appropriate for the group then steps should be put in place to change it; and then make certain to abide by the new rule. What should not happen is that a regulation is interpreted in too flexible a manner or worse still, simply ignored. Because we are human we all experience the behaviour and attitudes of others differently. Those of us who are adversely affected by undue noise will harbour a great deal of resentment if the BC committee chooses to ignore the resident who throws regular Saturday night parties to a background of rap music that go on until three in the morning. As one who is not unduly affected by noise when others queried my attitude to my first next door neighbour, a young woman who entertained enthusiastically on a regular basis, I had to admit I had barely noticed the noise level whilst others two and three rows distant were most definitely and vocally disturbed by it. Barking dogs are infinitely more likely to disturb those who are not particularly fond of dogs than the dog lovers in your midst. Wandering cats will likewise definitely exasperate those with a dislike for felines. One neighbour is always quick to point out with a certain amount of relish, a veritable host of syndromes and disorders, some of them fatal and all linked directly to cats. A great deal of antipathy is likely to ferment among non-committee residents of your community if rules are thought to be interpreted in the favour of those in the inner circle who seem hell bent on implementing them, regardless of the focus. However, it is remarkably difficult to persuade those sitting on any committee who have a specific agenda to look at matters from the point of view of the majority; to be fair to all. Invariably the BC member anxious to extend the hours during which any resident may party in a loud and intrusive manner will see themselves as one who is working towards freedom for everyone and be oblivious to the fact that possibly the majority in the community are happy with the status quo. Contentious interpretation might revolve around what constitutes a permitted `small’ dog and there are clearly going to be problems if the Chairman is seen nonchalantly walking his Rhodesian Ridgeback. This discontent might perhaps not be expressed directly to he who is seen as the miscreant and he may be blissfully unaware of it and perhaps still maintain that he is merely working towards more self-determination for all. But it will definitely be expressed to others particularly when perhaps someone else’s wish to own an Irish Wolfhound is dismissed. There is a basic human desire where rules of any kind are concerned for fairness to be seen to exist for all. If your BC guidelines prohibit the storage of anything other than roadworthy vehicles in car parking spaces, no-one is going to be deliriously happy about the resident who keeps unopened storage boxes in front of and beside his car and whose behaviour appears to be not only ignored but condoned. If you insist on hanging your silk shirts and underwear to dry from your bedroom window those living closest to you are not likely to be impressed with your laundry habits. And even more importantly, if you are actually a member of the BC committee and you are content to overlook these contraventions of general policy, then you are failing in your responsibility to your co-owners. As I said, becoming a volunteer on one of the Body Corporate Committees currently burgeoning around the city can produce more thorns than you might have ever expected
Tuesday, 23 August 2016
Thirty years ago when I was home schooling my two younger children I would have greeted the idea of opting into On Line Learning Courses such as those being mooted at present, with the greatest enthusiasm, especially for subjects like Mathematics and Science, about which I knew little. I felt more than competent teaching most other subject areas, not because I considered myself brilliantly well educated, because I didn’t but on the other hand the competence of the staff in local primary schools appeared to be similarly lacking in general skill level. It was my belief that I would have to try very hard indeed to do worse than they had done for my oldest child. He had always been in school but did not appear to have benefited from it very much after several years and his teachers remained unconcerned, maintaining that he would most likely learn when he was ready. I was less optimistic and ultimately, as it happened, I was right. The son and daughter I home schooled for ten years were diametrically different personalities. The boy had in fact been in school for more than a year and hated it, was disliked by other children and most of the staff, said he did not want to have friends anyway and would infinitely prefer to be by himself, at home, absorbed in Mythology and Ancient History, his passions for a number of years. His younger sister was on the other hand extremely sociable, well liked, and adaptable. To be honest she was kept at home primarily as a companion to her brother. At the time it was difficult to gain an exemption from school attendance and even more difficult to attain any kind of distance learning via the Correspondence School. On Line Learning was yet to emerge although home computers were beginning to appear here and there. The children, however, were attentive as far as their home schooling was concerned, applied themselves diligently and easily progressed to working two or three years ahead of the school system. The boy had some issues with the mechanics of writing and spelling which disappeared when he learned to type, a skill they both took to like ducks to water. His sister was always an avid writer, producing her first `book’ a twenty page novella called `The Bears In The Forest’ just before her fifth birthday. When she reached her seventh birthday and was let loose on the portable typewriter she became prolific. By the age of eleven or twelve they were both allowed to attend the local high school, Selwyn College, on a part time basis for single subjects and I recall this was Mathematics for the boy and Literature and Music for the girl. She was quite delighted with this arrangement but he was less enthused. When my son was sixteen he went full time into the Seventh Form, my daughter attended full time from about the same age. Despite dire predictions their years of home education did not drastically hold them back in life. My son went to University about a year early and did a degree in History, followed by an MA. He did extremely well academically, joined the Fencing Club and learned to binge drink along with his peers. My daughter followed on, finally did an honours degree in Law, joined a women’s soccer club and made a great many friends. Currently, after more than fifteen years in China, my son now lives in Taiwan, speaks fluent Mandarin and is a self- employed editor. His sister lives in London and works in international finance law. She still plays soccer, is an enthusiastic supporter of Chelsea Football Club, has an active social life and travels widely. She does not talk much about her home schooling years though I am aware that she would have infinitely preferred to attend school along with most other children. Her brother on the other hand is very bitter about being home schooled, feeling it was an irresponsible decision on his parents’ part. Had he attended school he maintains he might have had the opportunity to become an outstanding athlete. He remains an essentially isolated and idiosyncratic personality, still finding it difficult to adjust to others, still primarily content with his own company. All this probably only proves that individuals are the way they are regardless of where and when they went to school or how they were educated. However, for those families intent upon making the choice of home based schooling for their children, the possibility of enrolment into On Line Learning Courses can only be a great advantage. Not only would it give the students themselves the important opportunity to become part of a wider learning group, it would also provide significant support for families who for a variety of reasons, can be made to feel unnecessarily isolated. Better supported parents will naturally result in more confident learners and ultimately positive and self-reliant future citizens.
Friday, 19 August 2016
Tessa and I were having a dialogue about Betrayal the other morning at the new and rather intimidatingly overstaffed city café we had decided to try. We almost walked out because of the price of the Chocolate Brownies – Tessa maintained that $6.50 was outrageous and even though they looked more than tempting I had to agree. Less than ten minutes later though we were seated with Cappuccinos and Brownies before us and as it was her turn to pay she was $22 poorer. Betrayal on a personal level is what we discussed because Tessa is currently most distressed with a former close friend whom she considers has utterly let her down. When that aspect of the topic had been exhausted and we were drinking our second round of coffee – (my turn but no Brownies this time so not really fair) – we veered towards philosophy and onto Betrayal on a grander scale. She said that if it was the magnitude of the duplicity that really counted then there was once an officer in the Austrian army who definitely took the cake (though not the Brownie) because during WW1 he worked for the Russian military and leaked the Austrian plan to invade Serbia; truly treachery on a grand scale. She couldn’t quite recall his name but thought it was Alfred something or other and in the end he had the decency at least to commit suicide. This was something, she added bitterly, that her erstwhile friend might consider and of course I told her that she didn’t really mean that though she maintained she did. Then not wanting to appear to be completely ignorant of wholesale Betrayal I tentatively mentioned Harold Cole, of Scotland Yard who was considered to be a traitor worthy of gaining a place in history having divulged a great deal of information to the Gestapo concerning French Resistance escape lines. He did not need to suicide because the French shot him dead. ` Well they would wouldn’t they?’ Tessa said impatiently and added that she’d never heard of him (and to be fair neither had I until a week previously, courtesy of the History Channel). She began to tell me about the Rosenbergs, an American couple with Communist leanings who sold atomic secrets to the Russians during the Cold War. I listened politely even though I knew all about them anyway from my avid after-mass-on-Sundays reading of `The News Of The World’ decades earlier. She said she had no idea what happened to them but they were probably executed which would serve them right. There she was quite correct because they were. She folded her napkin, glared at a hovering wait person and declared loudly that anyhow personal Betrayal was much, much worse. She added, `After all, look at Julius Caesar….can you imagine how he must have felt when he realized that his own nephew was taking part in the plot to murder him?’ She shook her head and murmured, `Et tu Brutus?’ which is what everyone says when they mention that particular piece of family drama. However, I could only wholeheartedly agree. `It’s always a shock when an actual family member acts against you…..even though part of you is completely aware that family will let you down quicker than anyone else…’ I was now recalling the sharply painful part of a recent conversation with Judith from Ireland. . Tessa nodded fervently and said she supposed I was right there. A second hoverer in pristine wait-staff garb listened to this slightly odd conversation between two decidedly older patrons with undisguised tedium and I wondered why he bothered to eavesdrop at all. Now he stepped forward a fraction too impatiently to brush the table of crumbs and clear the cups. We rose and left, each giving him a hostile glance, each mentally crossing the place of our List For The Future, each still giving a thought or two to infidelity and betrayal. `Deception and deceit on any level can be astonishingly difficult to disregard,` I acknowledged as we stood in the street outside, preparing to say our goodbyes. Tessa said decisively, `No wonder people are inclined to take revenge.’ I was left wondering how and when she would do so and what form the retribution would take!
Wednesday, 17 August 2016
Over the past decade we seem to have become knee deep in safe havens for the sick and the elderly, those abodes you progress to when you have outgrown your average Retirement Village. Even places that started out as simple examples of Retirement Living, with perhaps a Community Centre as their focus, have stealthily added what might be called `The Extra Care Wing’. It seems that every suburb can offer one or two of such facilities from which to choose, and some more affluent areas even three. These nurturing, sheltering sanctuaries seem to be built in less time than it takes to properly observe as you drive by making two or three trips to the supermarket. They can be up and running within the month. The resulting structures are most pleasing on the eye and set in landscapes that would make Capability Brown himself sigh with envy. You can always identify them because they will have a name reminiscent of a nineteen thirties Lunatic Asylum. `Daffodil Heights’…… `Tranquil Towers’ …….. `Summer Fields’ , identifying titles that were quietly ushered from our lives when Care In The Community was ushered in. Over recent years I have had several friends who have passed through these places, one woman progressing through each of the three possibilities in her own upmarket Auckland suburb, starting with `Cherry Orchards’ where she had an entire apartment. Yvette had for years suffered from a progressive illness that ultimately curtailed her activities to the point where she abandoned the orchards realizing `Daffodil Heights’ was the only way forward. I visited her there several times, in her comfortable room on the first floor where everything she might need was available simply at the press of a bell. Well that was the idea at least. Yvette being the difficult personality she was managed to fall foul of those in charge very quickly because she pressed the bells too frequently and then she rang me excitedly to say that she was moving on to `Autumn’s Nest’, a convenient street or two away. It was a much more salubrious environment, she told me, more congenial in every way. And when I finally visited her I was impressed to find that each of the support staff, clad in their matching rose pink uniforms of Sea Island Cotton, was equipped with a cell phone with which to communicate directly with residents. No further need for bell pressing! Unfortunately Yvette’s illness had progressed to the point where she was occasionally supported by morphine and somehow or other the morphine made her quite thirsty. Her only complaint about her new environment was that it could be difficult to access glasses of water. She asked me to bring her a selection of the bottled variety – which I did, though I found it an odd request. `Autumn’s Nest’ appeared to run very efficiently, appetizing meals appearing regularly and placed on wheeled bedside trolleys that sadly for Yvette were always placed just a little out of reach. Without dedicated old fashioned nursing staff to ensure food was consumed, over the following weeks Yvette rapidly lost a great deal of weight and eventually seemed to simply starve to death. I was not her only visitor during this time of course and although I was shocked by what appeared to be wholesale negligence on the part of the pink cotton clad staff, I somehow convinced myself that it was my vivid imagination that led me to believe my friend was paying a great deal of money in order to be treated with an amazing lack of regard. In the years since she has been gone I have discussed the matter with a number of people and to my surprise have found that Yvette is merely one in a long line of sick and elderly people who enter the portals of modern Care Facilities in order to be finished off in a manner that is astonishing in its efficiency. Edwin is quite convinced that `Paradise Springs’ the home from home especially chosen for his grandmother was responsible for what he terms `her murder’, carried out over a mere two months of general neglect. He said that he had doubts about the place from the very beginning but because it was such a welcoming environment, thought he must be imagining things and so kept quiet. Lucy still feels guilty about convincing her mother to go into `Blossom Downs’ where she managed to live a half a year. `I trusted them implicitly because they were so approachable….so affable’ she says. And she is not alone in her views which you will find for yourself if you broach the subject and simply ask around. Overall these places cause me great concern which might well be lessened if we took a leaf from Aldous Huxley’s `Brave New World’ and simply called them `Hospitals For The Dying’. But whatever we finally decide to call them I wish I had displayed more courage where Yvette was concerned. It would not have been too difficult to ask a few pertinent questions on her behalf.
Sunday, 14 August 2016
`What do you do when a man in his sixties quite unexpectedly announces that he has met the love of his life and has decided to make enormous changes that will have ongoing repercussions for all around him?’ This was the question Judith a fellow blogger here on a suddenly organized visit from Northern Ireland posed over a rather late breakfast earlier this month. We were sitting in La Cigale, under one of the ceiling heaters but half shivering because for Auckland the day was cold. The question came out of the blue directly after the protracted conversation where, as usual she criticized my blog posts for lack of robust comment. I pointed out that there had certainly been robust comment on the tribute I had placed after a death in the family earlier in the year. `Ah but that came from a relative,’ said Judith irritatingly, `That doesn’t count – we all know family will stab you in the back quicker than anybody.’ And of course when you stop and think about it, she was right. Judith is invariably right, which is one of the things so infuriating about her. `I suspect you delete anything negative,’ she announced so accusingly I nearly choked into the remains of my latte and responded that there she was absolutely, one hundred per cent wrong for once. I had been thinking about her question concerning the man in his sixties, he who was about to leave her for a much younger woman. She had not yet admitted that the deserter was the man she had been married to for more than thirty years but when I asked her directly she simply nodded slowly, her eyes narrowing and quite surprisingly devoid of tears. And over the next hour the entire story, wretched and sordid in parts, emerged – at least, her side of it. She would not have noticed his faithlessness in the first place had he not announced he must lose weight, rid himself of the facial hair that he out of the blue decided aged him unnecessarily, and doused himself with expensive cologne on a daily basis. `He even joined a gym!’ she proclaimed managing to make it sound like partaking in child molestation, `and as for that beard, I’d been asking him to shave it off for years but he never would for me.’ It appeared he had been somewhat casually introduced to his new love on a boys’ night out after a football game at Wembley Stadium. To add insult to injury Judith herself had bought him the much sought after game ticket as a birthday present. Now she said she should never have done that or, better still, she should have bought two tickets and gone to the game with him and she might even have done so if only they were not quite so expensive and she didn’t hate football quite so much. I asked how many people knew of her marital dilemma and she admitted that though it was hard to tell, he was not exactly keeping it a secret. `His football going mates all know and possibly their wives,’ she said, adding that she felt demoralized and humiliated. `He’s even deliberately introduced her to some people – how could he do that?’ She showed me a blurred and indistinct image of the woman in question, printed from a Facebook page. `She comes from Taiwan and speaks very little English,’ she now spoke in a more business-like, matter of fact voice, `He’s rented a flat in South London where apparently they will live together.’ I handed the slightly crumpled A4 page back to her and tried to think of positive, helpful things to say which was difficult. Finally I settled on the fact that once they had lived together for a while he might well realise what a mistake he had made. Judith shook her head briskly, said that to be honest his behavior had destroyed much of her love for him. She didn’t really know if she wanted him back. She said as far as she was concerned the girl from Taiwan was welcome to him, stinking arm pits, haemorrhoids and all. She added that he appeared to be consuming vast quantities of Viagra and similar drugs. `Possibly not a good idea at his age,’ I agreed remembering some mention in earlier times of him having minor heart problems. Judith looked into the middle distance, her face suddenly quite composed, `No – it isn’t is it?’ she agreed. I drained my cup and looked at her hard. The thing about Judith is that it’s never been easy to know what she’s really thinking.
Tuesday, 9 August 2016
The last time our immediate family found themselves together was in Edinburgh in early June, all five of us to attend my brother’s memorial service. His death had come without warning, out of the blue, whilst holidaying in Africa. And so now we stood, a little group thrown unexpectedly together in the foyer of a hotel in the Grassmarket, the historic centre of the magnificent Scottish city. All of us seemed slightly discomfited at the abruptness of our assembly, searching for an innocuous topic on which to make initial casual comment and quickly seizing upon that which was the focus of our meeting, the death of Bernard John Hendy. My own thoughts were on his birth in nineteen forty seven two months before my seventh birthday, when I would so very much have preferred to have a sister. Then on his baptism that had caused so much discord between my parents because at my mother’s insistence it had not taken place in the Catholic Church but at alien and Anglican St Mark’s. Then as if this wasn’t bad enough for my more devout father, the last minute change of name. My new brother was supposed to be Bernard Joseph but because my mother harboured a great dislike of certain names, she deftly substituted John at the eleventh hour in a manner so unexpected that even the priest, holding the infant above the baptismal font, looked startled. In exactly the same manner she had seven years previously ensured that I became Jean rather than Bernadette. But now our family group did not talk of matters concerning the beginnings of life such as births and baptisms but of matters that concern the end. A sudden death is hard to comprehend. An ending that comes out of the blue is often so disquieting that family members left emotionally stranded find the circumstances almost impossible to internalise. So it had been with my brother who had so very recently enumerated to me the struggles he was having with his life and the major changes he was intending to make. I listened, as an older sister is wont to do, and then failed to give him the support he hankered after. He said that all he wanted was somebody who was on his side and I hesitated and shrugged though we both knew that somebody should be me. But I sent support scurrying in a different direction, feeling virtuous not because I wholly disapproved of the preposterous plans that he proposed but because of the chaos he might create. The conversation had taken place such a short time ago and now we stood in the tall, forbidding Grassmarket building debating the memorial service to mark his death that was to take place the next day. My prime emotion that afternoon in Edinburgh was a slowly evolving anger and I wondered if it would completely overwhelm me before I fully understood why I had abandoned Bernard John Hendy, who should rightly have been Bernard Joseph Hendy, when he most needed emotional sustenance.
Saturday, 6 August 2016
I don’t really expect to be believed when I maintain, before launching into my diatribe, that I am a cat lover At one time I was the obsessed owner of three cats – Hector, Harriet and Heidi, all of them adored not only by me but by four other family members. With us it was never just cats, however, and I recall with affection two goats (Gert & Cindy), a variety of rabbits of which I can only clearly remember Enid and Edna, half a dozen guinea pigs (names forgotten), two rats (Blanche and Beryl) and a mouse called Gabriella. Where the rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mouse were concerned the children did most of the owning. When The Husband and I moved from the suburbs into the city four years ago we fully intended that we should once again become cat owners, at least I did. We particularly chose that our future residence should be animal friendly. Of the several units available at the time in this particular complex, I even made sure we acquired the one with the cat door already fixed and fitted. We had always been cat people rather than dog people though with no particular antipathy towards dogs evidenced by the fact that over the years we had welcomed and cared for Puddles, the Poodle – Purdy, the Doberman – Jake, the Irish Wolfhound and Hereward the Deerhound. This was all back in the days when not only were we multiple animal owners, but I, at least, had a twenty a day smoking habit, dropped cigarette ends in city streets and out of car windows and liberally blew smoke over the children, including at least one newborn. Had I been a serious dog owner rather than an occasional dog minder, I would undoubtedly have been of the variety that paused indulgently whilst my canine crapped on public walkways and would have viewed cleaning it up with a certain amount of horror. I mean – clean it up? are you serious??? But I digress rather so I’ll get to the point. Over the past several years of city living I am saddened to have to admit that I now believe cats not to be suited to New Zealand style city living where we are tentatively embarking upon residing side by side in much smaller spaces than most of us were previously accustomed to. I am increasingly convinced that the city cat has to become a wholly indoor animal like his relatives in London, Paris and New York, where pet cats have lived inside for almost a century. You might well argue that similar parameters should apply to city dogs and you might be right. But although the behavior of dogs can irritate and intrude with barking, over-enthusiastic greetings, and doggy excrement here and there, generally speaking their overall conduct, and that of their owners, can be modified with civil interaction and patience. This is currently proving not to be the case where cats are concerned. There is an underlying mantra associated with cat owners. They will invariably maintain that their pet spends most of the time inside anyway and will never be a nuisance to others. And of course they will be fifty per cent correct because he spends all night curled up on the bed alongside them. It is quite another matter when the owner leaves the place for whatever fills their day because then any self-respecting feline with access to the outside world will venture forth and from that moment on the owner has absolutely no idea what he gets up to. Like it or not a cat with access to the outside world becomes co-owned by the neighbours. If you are a neighbour who is courageous enough to object to cat droppings in your herb garden or paw marks all over your courtyard walls you might get a nominal apology but privately you will be thought of, and possibly referred to as a `fusspot’ or `worryguts’’. I know this because I thought the same myself once upon a time of those around me who dared to complain about my delightful feline friends. I figured it was the nature of cats, to extend territory and generally speaking this included urinating and defecating in a number of enticing looking places nearby. As for marks on walls – well, honestly what do they expect? After all it’s a cat – cats can’t help their behavior. Anybody who didn’t like it should get a life. What nit-picking whingers they were! The sad fact is that the pro-cat contingent, in fact cat owners in general, have through recent decades developed an extraordinary sense of entitlement as far as their pets are concerned. And you have to believe me when I say this because I was once one of them. My animals roamed the neighbourhood with impunity, toileting where they would in various places, desecrating the gardens of others and causing mayhem to the bird life of Kohimarama. I will admit (though a little fearfully) that Hector in particular was known to bring home baby Tuis and deposit them at my feet. Shocking yes – but somehow or other I managed to justify it. After all he was a cat wasn’t he? How on earth was he supposed to tell one bird from another? The good news is that attitudes regarding cats are being forced onto the cusp of a major change. It is not so long ago that all of us gave our pet dogs license to soil pavements and gardens and if anybody disliked walking through it, well they should be more vigilant. Things are dramatically different now and dogs on walks are accompanied by owners bearing plastic poo-bags. Only rarely do we witness, as I do from my kitchen window occasionally, a reprobate minus plastic furtively shielding an animal busy in bushes whilst they glance left and right to assess who, if anyone, observes. Overall we no longer accept that dogs have a set-in-concrete Canine Right to defecate on our streets. A mere decade or two back we bowed to the rights of smokers, on public transport, in bars and restaurants and certainly in open public places. The idea that anyone could be offended by second hand smoke was simply a joke. The change came worldwide with extraordinary rapidity and we feel quite differently now. The smoker’s right to smoke is no longer sacrosanct. It would be true to say that at present the Inviolable Rights of Cats and their Outraged Owners are only minimally wavering as letters to the editor and talkback lines will testify. They know they are morally superior because they are defending the rights of helpless animals to basic freedoms. It is surely unthinkable to suggest cruelty should be heaped upon vulnerable creatures by regulating for them to remain inside their owners’ homes. There is a basic astonishment that anyone calling themselves a human being could possibly think otherwise. Those, like myself who dare to oppose their views are still seen as somewhat akin to wife beaters and pedophiles. It is becoming increasing possible, however, that in the not too distant future, those of us suggesting restrictions on city cats may no longer be greeted with sharp intakes of breath and mutterings that query whether we also support bull fighting and bear baiting. I am still, despite all this, a Cat Person, but I cannot help hoping that day is not too far away.
Wednesday, 3 August 2016
Josie talked to me at length about her adult daughter whom she truly believes despises her. I listened with growing alarm and hoped she was exaggerating. None of us can handle hostility from a grown up son or daughter with absolute ease. I suppose we all, at some stage go through a phase where we blame our parents for the negative aspects of who we are, where we stand and what life is currently throwing at us. I can certainly remember feeling very bitter as a fourteen year old towards my own poor mother for not being the kind of parent who would support me (both emotionally and financially) into a future as an actress. Stardom beckoned and at the time the fact that working class widows who cleaned other people’s houses for a living did not have a great deal of surplus cash for stage school fees seemed to escape me quite easily. To be totally fair I don’t think I was all that unusual because when things don’t go right for you as a teenager it’s almost always a big deal. Fortunately by the time we reach our thirties and forties all of us usually grow out of the cycle of blame and have long ceased to lay responsibility for our own inadequacies at the feet of our parents. The truth is that of course each one of us is inevitably a product of our parents and grandparents – but on the other hand we don’t have to be an exact replica. We can choose to be different from those we see as directly responsible for failing us. We can be better than they were in an instant if we so choose. Though supposing you grew up with physical and mental abuse or suffered from serious neglect then that’s a different matter and it may take a lot of mental energy to let go of the bitterness and anger. If, however, there was food on the table, and a reasonable amount of love then it might be more constructive to consider yourself fortunate. So, why continue to dissect every moment where you consider that your parents screwed up? Have these lapses of the past really trapped you for ever within a fate dictated decades ago? Were those that wronged you really that powerful? Are you really forced to hold onto grudges, judgements, and childhood pain throughout your entire life? Surely, your particular mother and father were simply human beings, like everybody elses, people doing what they could with the knowledge they had. The good news is that with any luck you are a great deal better informed than they were and will be a better parent than they; you will see things quite differently. Remember though that seeing things differently does not imply that all previous ways of thinking are wrong. Once upon a time people thought the world was flat simply because they did not have the technical capability to conclude its actual shape. Yes, they were mistaken but does that also make them dishonest, or sinful or stupid? How about pausing to examine the happy memories of the past and look a little harder at the laughter and the love. And whilst doing so perhaps be grateful to the upbringing you experienced for giving you this current freedom to criticise and despise those who raised you. And then even give some thought to wondering if you are still loved in that all encompassing way you were as a child. The sad fact is that ongoing hostile attitudes can be astonishingly destructive. Those are the things I might have said to Josie's daughter had she been sitting in front of me at the table in La Cigale cafe this morning. Fortunately she was not, and all I was required to actually do was listen to Josie's pain and reassure her that she had been always a most exemplary parent.