Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The nearer election

While the USA is (understandably) focused on the election there in November (as much of the world is, too), it’s not the only place elections are happening. Voting for the New Zealand General Election begins this coming Saturday, October 13. Election Day itself is on Saturday, October 17. This is much nearer for me, and it’s getting more of my attention at the moment.

I received my “Easy Vote” pack (photo above), which is designed to make it faster and easier to vote. I had some trouble getting my voter registration changed after I shifted to Hamilton, mainly because of the postal disruptions caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic. But, I got it finalised, and that’s what matters.

As always, we’ll have two votes: One is for the candidate in our Electorate (similar to a Congressional District in the USA). The other is for the party we want to lead government (known as “the party vote”). When we vote for the candidate of the party we also give our party vote to, it’s called “two ticks” (a “tick” in this context is the same thing that most Americans would call a “checkmark”). In my case, I’ll be voting “Two Ticks Labour”, as I have ever since I became eligible to vote in New Zealand.

This year, though, there are also two referenda on the ballot, one to allow the End of Life Choice Act 2019 to become law, the other asks if we’re in favour the proposed legalising of the recreational use of cannabis (I’ll try to talk more about the referenda another time). I’ll be voting YES on both referenda.

I love voting, and Election Day was always like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. But it just won’t be as fun and exciting without Nigel here to share it with me. I can imagine all the awesome discussions we’d be having about the election campaign and the players within it (and we’d have many conversations about the US’s election campaign, too). Our politics were very closely aligned, which is what added to the fun of it all.

Still, Nigel’s not here, and it’s up to me to carry on and do my democratic duty, this time for both of us. I will.

But I sure wish Nigel was here to share it with me.

Predictable responses

Last week was Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week), and there were the usual grumbles. This year, one thing that happened after the week made some people unhappy. That’s not new, but the context certainly was.

Every year New Zealand observes Māori Language Week as a way of building awareness of, and familiarity with, the Māori language. Typically this includes TV presenters using more of the language, and TV commercials are often subtitled with the language, or have a new spoken track entirely. There are often grizzles about it being mere tokenism because everything reverts back to English the following week, and, of course, there are grumpy cranks who complain about the language being used at all.

Once Māori Language Week was over, mobile phone (etc) company Vodafone NZ changed its carrier identifier to “VF Aotearoa”. In the past it was “Voda NZ”, and during Covid Vodafone changed it to say “Voda NZ – Stay Safe” and then when we moved down levels, it changed to “Voda NZ – Stay Kind”.

Then this week it changed to “VF Aotearoa”. I noticed it right away (let’s just say I check my phone a few times during the day and leave it at that), but I didn’t think much about it, actually. They’d already changed it several times, after all.

Naturally, someone didn’t like it (but one competitor's response was awesome). Interestingly, it seems as if the objection was mostly on a technicality, and not, as one might assume, about open racism (that’s usually reserved for those who oppose any use of the language by public institutions). However, the issue of what the country and the places within it are named is an ongoing topic of discussion, debate, and, of course, arguments.

Recently, the Māori Party used Māori Language Week to announce it would change the country’s name to Aotearoa by 2026. Right now, that’s a non-starter, not the least because the Māori Party is unlikely to be in Parliament, let alone in a position to influence public policy. Even so, the general idea is unlikely to go away.

Last June, as part of a global phenomenon following the murder of George Floyd, the Hamilton City Council took down the statue of the English soldier the town was named after, a man who is accused of participating in atrocities, and who also never set foot in the city that would be named after him. That rekindled discussion on whether the city’s name should revert to its original name, Kirikiriroa (which apparently means “long stretch of gravel”). A poll taken at the time said that only 27.4% wanted to see the name changed, 14.9% didn’t know/wouldn’t say, and a whopping—though unsurprising—57.6% opposed a name change.

Hamilton is a conservative place, but there’s also a large influence from Māori. The removal of the statue was pushed by local Māori, for example, but there are already many names of streets and suburbs that are Māori (including the street and area where I live). I think it’s inevitable that Hamilton’s name will change—some day—as will the names of other places. Personally, I think it’s more likely that the country’s name will one day become “Aotearoa New Zealand”, something that an increasing number of people—young people in particular—already call it. This would be a way to honour the country’s origins and the European influence in shaping it, too.

In the meantime, there will be occasional flashes of anger from the grumpy brigade, racists, and assorted complainers. This also means that folks with an impish side may deliberately stir the pot: People like, oh, me, for example.

Online, and on Facebook in particular, I sometimes refer to “Kirikiriroa-Hamilton”, and sometimes just “Kirikiriroa”, mostly because I think the name should change. However, if I’m truly honest, it’s also because I know it pisses off “certain people”. I'm well aware that this particular impishness sometimes veers close to being ordinary trolling, but it also serves a useful purpose: Over time, the use of names like Kirikiriroa and Aotearoa desensitises opponents to their use. It won’t change anyone’s view overnight, and possibly not at all for some people, but making the names more commonly seen and heard will also make adopting them more likely to happen, and sooner rather than later.

There is, however, also a danger that we could go too quickly. Only a small percentage of New Zealanders can speak Māori, and only a minority of Māori are fluent. Pushing the adoption of Te Reo Māori too hard, too fast, and/or too aggressively could cause a backlash from non-Māori in particular. That’s not a reason to not push for change, just an acknowledgement that we need to bring everyone along. Fortunately, most advocates for the language, Māori and Pākehā alike, are doing exactly that.

Right now, though, there will be times when people will get way too bent out of shape over tiny things like a cellphone company’s network identifiers. In other words, people will have predictable responses when they feel threatened in some way by even the smallest use of the Māori language. We just need to work to make such reactions less common. And even tiny changes, like the one to “VF Aotearoa”, are good examples of ways we can do that.

See also: "New Zealand firms switch to using nation's Māori name, Aotearoa"The Guardian

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A crappy project is finished

Today I completed another project—a small one, sure, but it was an important one. Fortunately, I didn’t do a crap job.

Three years ago, Nigel and I installed a pet waste composting system, which worked well. We had to replace that one when the lawn mowing company hit it and broke it (they paid for the replacement). When I was finishing up at the house last March, I couldn’t find it to dig it up. That meant I didn’t have one for the new house.

The official advice in Hamilton had been to put the furbabies’ gifts into the rubbish, but I never liked doing that. So I bought a composter for this house, but I could just never seem to get around to it. However, in this case, it was about how much work it is: I had to dig a hole around 35cm in diameter and deep. Then it’s buried up to its next. That a lot of digging and moving of dirt.

Prior to that, I also had to work out where to put it, especially because I may never have to move it (digging it up is also a mission, as we found out when our first one was wrecked and we needed to dig it up). I knew the general areas where I wanted to put it, and it was only in the past week or so I worked out the specific spot.

We’ve had some rain lately—including today—but I found a break in the weather, and I started digging. All the rain helped ensure that the dirt wasn’t all dry and hard as concrete, but below that was thick, gluggy clay. That would’ve been the same either way, though.

So, another project is complete. There’s some sawdust-like stuff that helps the gifts break down that needs to be sprinkled on top of the gifts, and today I sprinkled some on the bottom to get it ready for use, because I plan on collecting the gifts tomorrow. This means that the project isn’t just finished, it’s now also in use.

And, now I’m, well, pooped.

The photo up above is the pet waste composter before I installed it (it was sunny when I first took it outside…). The photo below is of the newly-installed composter.

Funny (to me) on this given day

On any given day, any number of ordinary things can catch our attention, especially when they’re funny. Exactly that happened today.

Yesterday I got an email from my car insurance company asking me to verify the change in my address to Hamilton. Oddly enough, only a few days earlier I realised that I'd never heard anything back when I made the change (they usually send out a confirmation letter). I thought I should contact them about it, so their email was timely.

Then today I got another one with a PDF of that letter I was expecting, and another document apologising for not making the change when I'd requested it back in March, and it then said:
"Your address change resulted in a reduced premium. You will receive a credit of $34.12, which includes compensation* of $0.07."
The reduction is because it's cheaper to insure a car in Hamilton than in Auckland (which I'd forgotten about, actually), but it made me laugh to read there was "compensation* of $0.07." (the asterisk was just to a footnote telling me how it was calculated, which is pretty boring, to be honest).

This wasn’t an important thing, obviously, but it did make me laugh, which is always a welcome thing—especially these days. While I'm always glad for a little extra cash (and "little" is the important word here…), now I'm stumped: How should I spend that massive windfall of 7¢ in compensation?!

This is a somewhat revised version of something I posted to my personal Facebook earlier this afternoon.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Two Ticks

Like most people, I get notifications of new videos posted to the YouTube Channels I subscribe to, and one of them, the video “Two Ticks” (above), was posted to the NZ Electoral Commission’s YouTube Channel. I instantly thought, "hang on, I’ve seen that guy somewhere…” I worked out where, but then realised I’d forgotten to post it on this blog at the time. Oops.

I recognised the guy and his singing from an earlier video of his, “Family Lockdown Boogie” (below), and I was sure I’d shared it when he released it, during our lockdown. On April 6, I shared the video to my personal Facebook and said:
This is a real Wellington family. The song was written by Jack Buchanan (the son), who talked about the video on TVNZ's "Breakfast" programme this morning. He said that his parents and sister didn't need any persuasion to take part. He also said there was a LOT of rehearsal but that wasn't a problem because everyone has a lot of time on their hands at the moment. He also said that the choreography is by his friend Anna Robinson, who videoed herself making the moves, and then they all watched that to learn the moves—lockdown was not violated nor bubbles burst.

There are a lot of videos (of varying quality…) being made to entertain/amuse during this difficult time, but this one made me smile, so I'm sharing it.
Yeah, well, “sharing it” turned out to mean on Facebook only. I may have skipped it on the blog because on April 6 I published a post with the Queen’s broadcast to the UK and the Commonwealth. Maybe I thought the Queen’s broadcast was too “serious” to be posted the same day as a lighthearted humour video?

As it happens, I posted that video to Facebook after I’d started a blog post with some lockdown videos from around the world, and “Family Lockdown Boogie” was to be at the top of that post, which is probably why I thought I’d shared it. I put the draft post aside, intending to return to it at some point. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting, and then it eventually seemed kind of pointless.

In any event, we’re here now, eh? I think the video up top really does help explain New Zealand’s MMP electoral system, though I realise it’s not for everyone. Still, I saw a comment on the YouTube post (yeah, I ignored my own advice and read the comments) that said, “As an American in New Zealand, I genuinely learned a lot about a system I previously knew nothing about! Not that I can vote here anyway…” Clearly not a Permanent Resident or Citizen, then.

I don’t think there are absolute “right” or “wrong” ways to talk about or explain MMP, but some are more effective for some people than for others who, in turn, will find other methods better. It’s how we humans work for pretty much everything. Nevertheless, I like the video, though I wish it was in higher resolution, but maybe that would’ve been contrary to the homemade aesthetic he seemed to be going for. I do like the video down below better, though (Arthur's Law, of course).

In any event, kudos to the Electoral Commission for posting “unconventional” videos to their channel. It’s a good thing to do, and it will hopefully increase interest in voting. We hope.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Spring Time

It’s Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, and, just like our friends in the North, we often have unsettled weather in the Spring. Sometimes it seems like a pendulum swinging between winter and near summer, but with that pendulum occasionally getting stuck or swinging only part way. The weather lately has been all of that.

We’ve had a bit of wild weather, with some heavy winds and heavy rain today, with more bad weather to come. Parts of the South Island may have snow down to sea level, which is unusual for this time of year. On the other hand, yesterday is a was in the 20s at my house (high 60s Fahrenheit). I had the house opened up and just enjoyed the, well, springlike weather. It was very pleasant. Sunny had me let her out at 3:30am last night, and it was still 17, which is quite warm for nighttime at this time of year. At least we didn’t have hail this year, unlike two years ago.

Springtime also brings Spring Time: Today New Zealand entered Daylight Time (NZDT) when our clocks “sprang ahead” at 2am. All my computerised bits and pieces change the time automatically, but I now have four analogue wall clocks (for our young friends, that means a clock with hands we have to change manually twice a year). Three of those clocks were changed, but the I just couldn’t be bothered changing the fourth. Maybe it was Daylight Saving Time Hangover. We return to NZ Standard Time (NZST) on April 4, 2021, which is during the four-day Easter Holiday Weekend.

I’m not a big fan of this business of changing the clocks twice a year. I never used to mind, but getting older has changed my mind: It doesn’t take much to upset my equilibrium these days, and changing the clocks is a pretty big disruption—twice every year. On the other hand, it being lighter later is definitely a nice thing.

Now, if we could just get a bit more warmth, that’d be great.

Today I got a happy ‘Memory’

Today Facebook served up yet another “Memory” of something relating to Nigel and me, and it was again one I’d forgotten about. I posted it, Facebook told me, on Friday, September 27, 2013 at 17:12:
You may remember me saying that Nigel and I see November 2 as our anniversary because that’s the date I arrived in New Zealand to live. This year, we’re planning something a little different: On Friday, November 1—exactly five weeks from today—we’re going to the Registry Office in Auckland and changing our civil union to a marriage. We already had a ceremony when we got our civil union, of course, so we’ll just have the brief ceremony required by law, and in about ten minutes we’ll be legally married.

The next day, November 2—our 18th anniversary together—we’re having a party for friends and family to help us celebrate. We’re excited, but I’m troubled by one thing: How on earth are we going to better THIS for our 20th or 25th?
The marriage ceremony ended up being on Thursday, October 31 because Friday the first of November was full (apparently Fridays were booked out weeks/months in advance). We had the party on the Saturday as planned, though.

I don’t think we didn’t do much for our 20th anniversary, and, of course, we never made it to our 24th last year, let alone our 25th, which would have been this year. But the fact we were married still makes me happy.

I never posted that 2013 Facebook status on this blog, but I did incorporate parts of it into a post the day we were married, October 31, 2013. A week and a half earlier, I’d also published a post in which I talked about preparations for the party, without mentioning what the party was for. I’m sure I’d have had a reason for keeping quiet about it, but I don’t remember what that was.

This wasn’t the first time that Facebook suggested a “Memory” telling me about something I’d forgotten I’d posted there. For example, a couple weeks ago I talked about posting on Facebook what was happening to Nigel long before I said anything here, and that, too, began as a “Memory”. It probably won’t be the last time that a Facebook “Memory” reminds me about something, but they won’t all be about Nigel.

This particular “Memory” was a good one because it reminded me about something I was very excited about, something positive that Nigel and I were doing together. I’m sure I’ll have more to day about that when the anniversary arrives next month, and then the one a few days later, but, for now, what matters to me is just how good and happy that “Memory” was—and still is.

This post incorporates and expands on what I said on my personal Facebook when I shared the “Memory” there.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The horrible anniversary

And so, it’s arrived: It’s officially the horrible anniversary of the day the life of my Nigel ended, and so did our life together. I’m sad, of course, but when am I not? The love of my life, my true soulmate, my best friend has now been gone for a year, and it hurts every bit as much now as it did then—but I’ve learned to coexist with that pain.

I think of him every day, cry sometimes, miss him always, smile at memories of good times, and laugh about his cheeky humour and how he could be such a loveable jerk when he wanted to be. I’m not sad just because he died, I’m sad because all of the good stuff that went with him.

Today is something else, too: From now onwards, every anniversary that comes up will be one that‘s already happened at least once since Nigel died, plus there will be anniversaries of things he couldn’t be part of. Each day now is entirely my own, and the day exactly a year before those anniversaries will have been mine without him, too. That means that today is a milestone for me in whatever my new life will become.

But I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care about anniversaries, milestones, or whatever. All I care about is that person I loved more than anyone in my life, the person who was the biggest influence on my life, has now officially been gone a year. And I absolutely hate that.

The friends and family that Nigel and I shared are in this with me, of course, and I think that over the past year we’ve drawn strength from each other. I know that will be true from now on, too.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported me through this journey, and shared it with me. Whether we’ve met in real life or not, whether we have a close bond or more casual acquaintance, you’ve all been part of getting me through this year—and, yes, that includes comments here and “Reactions” or comments on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all. And, I know that if he could, my beloved Nigel would thank you, too, for helping to make his final wish come true: That I’d be okay.

But, most of all, I just miss my Nigel. Every day. I don’t need an “anniversary” for that.

This is a revised version of something I posted on my personal Facebook this morning. The photo up top is of Nigel and me at the Celine Dion concert in Auckland in August, 2018. I’ve always liked this photo because of how obviously happy Nigel was in it. It was a good night. (I first used the photo in my first blog post after Nigel died). The image below is what I posted on my personal Facebook right after Nigel died, as it looked on my Facebook Page last night.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Don’t be a vote ghost

New Zealand, like all Western democracies, has a major problem: Younger voters don’t vote. That means that as a share of the population older people are way overrepresented, and younger people are way underrepresented, in elected bodies. Over the years, there have been many attempts to change this, to get younger people to vote, but those efforts have had limited—sometimes no—success. Even so, we must continue to try to get younger people to vote so that the governments we elect better represent us all.

The New Zealand Electoral Commission is attempting to do that through its “Don’t be a vote ghost” campaign. The video above is their 30 second ad, and it, and their shorter versions (below), are currently in heavy rotation on NZ television. The first goal is to get younger people registered to vote, and then to also get them to show up.

The reason that this is necessary can be seen in a chart from FigureNZ (the original version, at the link, is interactive), using data from voter turnout for the 2017 General Election:

I’m well aware that other countries would envy New Zealand’s relatively high turnout among enrolled voters (putting aside the percentages of unenrolled people), however, it’s clear to see that people under 35 vote at significantly lower rates than do those who are older. According to the NZ Electoral Commission, in 2017 nearly a third of enrolled voters under 35 didn’t vote.

There are many reasons why younger people don’t vote, and even more theories. Back in March, John Holbein looked at what we know about young people’s voting in the USA for the American Political Science Association’s Political Science Now. It’s worth a read.

Whatever the country, there are a number of issues that young people care about that could be dramatically affected if they actually voted, but this is about far more than mere issues: Young people’s issues seldom receive much priority from older politicians precisely because politicians don’t need to rely on the votes of younger people, so they feel they can largely ignore them. This also means that younger people have very little representation in government, including having younger politicians, but also older politicians who agree with the priorities of younger voters. If government is to truly represent the people, then it must truly represent the people. Young voters can help ensure it does.

The TV ad campaign includes several short versions of the ad above. Both of them use a netball seen that’s not in the longer version, the shortest of them focusing on that.

First, the 15 second ad:

Finally, the 6 second version:

I think the longer two ads are effective at conveying the campaign’s message. In my opinion, though, the 6 second version is the weakest of the three. However, that one’s obviously intended to reinforce the message of the longer ads, meaning it usually runs in the same ad bloc as one of the longer ads (based on what I’ve personally seen so far). That’s a common practice among many advertisers.

This campaign won’t, by itself, increase the turnout of younger voters. Like most countries—though nearly as much as the USA—New Zealand needs systemic reform. Because there are a lot of reasons that younger people don’t vote, though, it’s obvious that no single ad campaign can ever address all the obstacles. But even if it only helps just a little, it’ll be well worth the effort.

And, yeah: Don’t be a vote ghost. Boo.

Friday, September 18, 2020

52 weeks

Fifty-two weeks ago today, Nigel died, and our life together ended. Just as the 24 years of our life together shaped me and my life, so, too, this past year has shaped my future. I just don’t yet know what that means.

Because of Leap Year, the actual anniversary will be on Sunday. I’m noting the anniversary in weeks mainly because I have several times before, but I know that in future years I’ll remember it mostly by the anniversary date, and not the specific week or day of week, just as I have for all the happy anniversaries we shared. I think that if that’s so common with happy memories, maybe it’s a good idea for bad memories, and especially horrible ones.

Really, though, how we mark time is beside the point: Nigel died fifty-two weeks ago today, and that’s a year in any real sense. It hurts every bit as much as it did a year ago—maybe even a bit more because I now fully comprehend what’s happened, and how affected I am by that.

Today was a pretty crap day, overall. No surprises there, of course—I expected that this would be a terrible time for me. I’ve documented much of that on this blog, and, of course, I’ll continue to do so, including up to and through the horrible anniversary itself (even though, obviously, I consider today to be the “real” first horrible anniversary).

I’ve been thinking about Nigel all day, and I’ve cried several times. I put Nigel’s bracelet on this morning, the one I mentioned back in October of last year, and for the same reasons. Mostly, though, I’m wearing that bracelet because it makes me feel more connected to him a year after the day that physical connection was broken. That’s actually very comforting.

I still have absolutely no idea what my future will be, but I know something of the present. Tonight I went out for dinner with my brother and sister in law, and it was a really awesome time (including the food, fortunately). Over the next few days, Sunday in particular, some of the family and I will be getting together mainly just to be together. We’ll all note the horrible anniversary in the ways that are right for us as individuals, but at the same time being together means we can lend each other some strength, or even find just a bit by being together. That would make Nigel so very, very happy.

The loss of my Nigel hurts every bit as much as it did fifty-two weeks ago—maybe even a bit more. There are still tears, and will be long after the horrible anniversary—both of them—is over. I know that. But today marks the start of a significant change, one that actually begins on Sunday.

But right now, I have to get through the night. And then Saturday. And then Sunday. And then the rest of my life, whatever it becomes.

The image up top is what I posted to my personal Facebook this morning.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The day he left our home

I always knew this would be an extremely difficult week for me, especially as the first anniversary of Nigel’s death gets closer. What I didn’t expect was all the weird ways it’s affected me. That included today.

On Tuesday, I talked about how doing a perfectly ordinary project, the sort of thing I’ve done several times over the past year, suddenly stirred up emotions I hadn’t expected. Those emotions turned what otherwise would have been a fairly lighthearted, even self-deprecating, post into one that was more reflective.

Later that same day, I published a post on the first time I talked publicly about what was happening to Nigel, and to our life together. If it hadn’t been for Facebook serving up a “Memory”, I may not have remembered all that, and if I hadn’t, then today would also have been much easier. Maybe. Even so, it helped me realise some things for the first time.

A year ago by date, on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, Nigel went back to hospital for the last time. He came home the previous Saturday, but was pretty miserable all the time. They only gave him paracetamol for pain/discomfort, and it didn’t really help (he was mostly profoundly uncomfortable, not really in any pain, fortunately).

On that Tuesday morning, he knew he needed to see the doctor to find out if they could do anything to make him feel more comfortable. I rang the doctor, but told them I couldn’t possibly get him to their office (he was weak and so very uncomfortable at the time, and I couldn’t get him down the stairs by myself). The doctor would try to come out, or else she’d send the practice nurse, which is what happened.

The nurse had helped Nigel the week before when I drove him to the doctor’s office. That day he was feeling very unwell. The nurse gave him fluids intravenously because he was dehydrated (he wasn’t able to eat or drink much). She was very kind and caring. I ended up driving him to the hospital because after waiting more than an hour, they checked and the ambulance was stuck in traffic (mainly) and they had no idea when it would show up. Nigel felt a bit better by then.

The morning of that Tuesday, Nigel sat on a plastic chair in the en suite so I could wash him (he didn’t want the doctor/nurse to examine him when he was “dirty” from not washing). I wasn’t very good at it, and he got frustrated with me. I’d have gotten much better at it if I’d only had more days.

The doctor’s office rang to say the doctor couldn’t get away, so she was sending the nurse. She arrived and took his vitals and sat down for a chat. She was again kind and caring. She asked if he wanted to go to hospital, and Nigel asked, “what would you do?" She replied, “I’d go to hospital.” The decision was made, and the doctor’s office organised for an ambulance to transport him.

The ambulance took a little while to get there, mostly because their GPS was pretty useless. They arrived and checked him out again, including using a mobile ECG machine. The backing paper for the contacts were on the floor and on Nigel’s nightstand the rest of the week.

They couldn’t carry him in a normal stretcher because our stairs were narrow and had a sharp 180 degree turn halfway down. So, they went to get their chair stretcher, and apparently had a newer version that was narrower. Or, something; my memory about that is a bit vague.

They helped him into the chair, and wheeled him down the hallway toward the stairs. Nigel’s brother and one of his sisters were there by then, and helped me, especially by looking after the dogs.

They wheeled Nigel down the stairs, slowly and carefully. They rounded the first turn, moved along to the second and final turn as I waited on a higher part of the stairs. As I watched them lower Nigel one step, then another step, slowly and carefully, I had a sudden moment of clarity: “He’ll never come back home again,” I thought to myself, and then quickly banished the thought. But, I knew.

Once outside, they helped Nigel get into the ambulance, and onto the stretcher inside. While they did that, Nigel’s brother and sister helped me get my things together, including a jacket, and one of them took Nigel’s bag (I’d packed it for him, though it was mostly still packed from his previous trip to hospital).

I climbed into the back of the ambulance and sat in the seat near Nigel, facing backwards. I was mostly focused on him—was he (reasonably) comfortable? Did it look like he might get sick (something he was worried about)? Nigel’s brother told me later that Nigel was looking off to the distance, as if he was trying to take in the view of the sky, the trees, everything at our home, for one last time. The doors shut and we headed out.

It was Nigel who noticed we were heading the wrong way. He’d looked out the window and realised where we were; I’d been too busy watching him. Once I got my bearings—I was riding backwards—I turned around to give directions to the driver: Their useless GPS was sending us the wrong, much longer way.

Once we were on the right roads, I could relax and focus on Nigel again. He was in good spirits, all things considered. When we got off the motorway to head to the hospital, we passed a KFC, and he joked about stopping to get some. The ambulance officer pretended to consider it.

We arrived at the hospital and I walked with them to the evaluation area. His brother and sister came round, and we visited with him. His sister happened to have a fan in the boot of her car, and went to get it for him. Over his last days at home, he found it increasingly difficult to stay cool. The Sunday before, he and I had taken a nap, with the deck door open and the air conditioner on cool—despite the fact it was still early Spring. That day was bright and sunny, and the air was fresh. Eventually, though, it got too cold even for him, and we closed up the house. But the air conditioner stayed on.

A lot of the details after we arrived at the hospital are a bit fuzzy for me, but eventually Nigel told us to go home for the night. At the time, and despite my moment of clarity, I was still thinking they’d stabilise him, make him feel better, then send him home again. If I’d had any idea what was really happening, I’d never have left him. I spent the next two nights—his last two nights—in his hospital room with him. By that time, I pretty much understood it was almost over, and I didn’t want him to die without me being near. I was there right up until the end. I know he knew that.

I remembered living through all that, but I don’t know that it I’d have had such a strong emotional reaction to it if it hadn’t been for that Facebook “Memory”. My reaction was strong: Yesterday evening I was sitting watching TV, remembering September 17 last year, and sometimes crying. There was nothing on TV I wanted to watch, and I thought about watching a YouTube video, but I realised that with the way I was feeling, it probably wasn’t a good idea. I watched an old movie instead.

I went to bed later, and once in bed I kept breaking into crying fits—loud, gut-clenching sobs, but not wailing. Just very deep sobs. I had trouble falling asleep, but when I did I slept well enough—though not actually enough. I hadn’t expected to be so affected the night before today, but I wasn’t surprised, either: Nights are always the worst for me. I’m most vulnerable then because nights are so cold, and dark, and silent, and lonely.

This bad patch had a good aspect, though, because it led me to a deep realisation. Whenever there’s been any sort of crisis, I’ve always switched into what I called “crisis mode”, in which I’m (unusually) focused, clear-headed, and able to see and make clear and logical decisions quickly. I was always proud of that ability (for lack of a better word), and Nigel told me more than once how he admired it, since he couldn’t do that in a personal “crisis”.

But I realised last night that this supposed “ability” has always been a fraud: It was my psyche’s way of protecting itself by (nearly) completely shutting down my emotions. It was how I was able to have my moment of clarity, then in the next second switch my focus back to what was happening in front of me. It wasn’t that I was “focused, clear-headed, and able to see and make clear and logical decisions quickly,” I’d simply turned off my emotions, and that was the logical result of doing so.

Over Nigel’s last days, and even on through his memorial the next week, I was oddly disconnected. At the time, and for months afterward, I assumed that was because I was just in some sort of shock. While I think that was part of it, I also think the main problem was that I’d shut down my emotions when I went into “crisis mode”.

Over the next six months, I continued turning to that ability to remain “focused, clear-headed, and able to see and make clear and logical decisions quickly” as I finalised Nigel’s estate, found a place to live in Hamilton and prepared for that, shifted into the new house, and sold our house in Auckland. All of that happened, I now realise, because I was still operating in that “crisis mode”. It explains why lockdown, coming hard on the heals of selling our Auckland house, was so very difficult for me: I suddenly had nothing to be “focused, clear-headed, and able to see and make clear and logical decisions quickly” about. That’s been true, more or less, ever since: I’d lost the only thing that for me qualified as “purpose”, like Joe Biden talked about last month.

I realised all of that only because of what that Facebook “Memory” set off a couple days ago, and it actually helped me put things into a larger and better perspective for the first time all year. On the other hand, up until that point I was thinking about how “well” I felt, even considering how the week was bound to get harder as it went on, as it drew closer to that horrible anniversary. That “Memory” shook things up—in this case, I think, for the better.

This morning another reminder popped up, one totally unrelated to what I went through last year. I was reading an article about the “important” parts of Apple’s product announcements this morning. I thought about how Nigel would have watched it live (he was almost always up by 5am, anyway), and he’d have been excited by the new Apple Watch and iPads—something I can be so sure of because he always had been, and because he wanted what was announced last year, but they weren’t actually available until after he’d died. Still, for a time he was excited about it, as he always had been, and I was happy for him—and probably mentally tabulating how much all of that was going to cost. We both had our roles!

Last night was not a good one, but today has been better, and part of the reason for that was thinking about how Nigel would react to Apple’s announcement. It was a reminder of how things used to be, and how good they were, before this time last year took all that away. A year ago today, was the day nigel left our home for the last time, but I was partly wrong that he wouldn’t be back: “My Nigel got to come home one last time, and we were all together one last time”, as I put it the morning of his memorial. It was one of the best decisions I made back then. That was one time I let my emotions into the picture, just a little bit.

This time has affected me in weird ways, including today. But because of it, I’ve also learned and grown so much. Documenting it will help me remember it correctly, too, which is also good. Nigel would absolutely hate seeing me in so much pain, but he’d also be glad that I managed to find something good in it. It’s what he’d have tried to do, too.

Voting in a pandemic

The New Zealand General Election will be held on Saturday, October 17, and the voting period begins on Saturday, October 3, which will give people plenty of time to vote. This year, the system is being adjusted to deal with the global pandemic. Voting by mail in the General Election isn’t a "thing" in New Zealand (it's only used in Local Government elections and the occasional referendum), so some prudent precautions are necessary.

The video above, with two well-known New Zealand TV presenters, is an ad from the Electoral Commission that’s currently running on NZ television. It lays out the general parts of how the election will be run. There are also a series of shorter ads on several aspects touched on in the general add, but those haven’t been on TV yet.

Up first is physical distancing:

The next ad is for hand sanitiser:

The next ad is about pens. NZ voters are being urdged to bring their own pen, but pens will also be provided and people will take those pens home with them (New Zealand’s ballots are paper—we don’t use voting machines).

All of these ads were also made in Te Reo Māori. Both of the Morrisons are advocates and teachers/coaches for the language. It’s part of a larger trend to present such messages in Te Reo.

I don’t know for certain that the short ads will also be on TV, but in past elections they’ve run similarly short ads several times during prime time, which may be more effective than running one longer ad. (If I remember, I’ll add an update to this post of the shorter ads do start airing.)

The underlying theme of this is that we all—voters and those running the election alike—should take prudent precautions during this pandemic. In general, though, voting isn’t any more dangerous than going to the supermarket: Both require physical distancing, hand hygiene, and similar methods for people to keep themselves safe. New Zealand will almost certainly be at Level 1 by Election Day, so face masks probably won’t be suggested (right now, they’re only required for public transport users at Level 2 and above), but that doesn’t mean people can’t wear them, of course.

There’s every reason to have total faith that we have a high degree of safety for our elections, despite the pandemic. Confidence in the integrity of our elections themselves is always there, of course, so the issue is just that we don’t want anyone to be afraid to vote. Right now, I doubt anyone will.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Leo makes a stand

The photo above shows what the blinds in the front window looked like after Leo saw the big elderly/dopey dog belonging to a builder who’s working on the house next door. Leo does NOT like the way that dog likes to lounge on my front lawn. (The blinds were not injured, of course, but Leo’s ego may have been).

I posted this photo (with a slightly different caption) on Instagram this morning.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The beginning of the end

One year ago today by date, on September 15, 2019, I used Facebook to share what I could of Nigel’s final journey. It was the first time I did that. I shared what we knew right then, but that turned out to be so very incomplete. It was a Sunday when I wrote that post, in our bedroom, with Nigel lying next to me. I ran it past him. That same weekend, when he felt up to it, I helped him work on his story for his memorial service, we worked on his will, and basically tried to prepare ourselves for what was coming.

Two days after I made that post, Nigel was taken back to hospital. He had a couple days in which he was conscious, and then he died early the morning of his third day in hospital, five days after I made that Facebook post.

I never shared that Facebook post on this blog—of course I didn’t: This blog was among the things that absolutely were not on my mind at that time. Of course. However, unlike other things I posted to Facebook that week and the weeks afterward, I didn’t share the September 15 post, something I never realised until today, when Facebook presented the post to me as a "Memory". As we draw closer to the first anniversary of Nigel’s death, it’s important to me to fully document what happened, and that particular post describes where we were at the start of what turned out to be the final week of our life together.

With that in mind, here’s that post from September 15, 2019, unedited and uncorrected:

I have some bad news, and Facebook is the best way to tell a lot of people at once.

On Monday we took Nigel to the hospital because he had a bad infection that seemed to be affecting his liver. After tests and scans, and consultations with liver specialists, he’s since been diagnosed with liver cancer, which is late stage. The other day the doctor said the prognosis doesn’t look good.

They did a biopsy Friday, and we’ll probably meet with the oncologist later in the coming week. After that, we’ll have a better idea what the plan and outlook are, but until then we just don’t know and can’t comment on it. This came as a shock because until he sought treatment for the infection, he had absolutely no symptoms of anything being wrong—nothing popped up in blood tests and there was nothing to make doctors worried. Nothing.

I apologise for sharing this bad news in a post—I’d have preferred to let many of you know privately first. But last week I spent most of each day at the hospital with Nigel, and in addition to being long, exhausting days, we got a little more information every day, and I wanted to share the most complete information I could. However, waiting eventually meant a FB Post was the only practical way to share the bad news with our wider circle of friends.

Please keep us in your thoughts, and feel free to reach out. Don’t worry about not knowing what to say—no one ever knows what to say at a time like this. Receiving a kind word can help more than we might think. However, because of everything that’s going on, please understand that we may not respond right away—it might just not be the right time at that moment, but we’ll get to responding eventually.

Nigel and I were supposed to grow old together. That was always our plan, our only plan for two and a half decades. Along the way, we tried to cherish each day, to make sure we said “I love you” every single day, and to always make sure that the other *felt* loved. We succeed in all that. We still are.

Give your loved ones a big, long hug from us.

Doing stuff

I often share things about my personal life on this blog that are important, and plenty that aren’t important at all. Goes with the territory for a personal blog. But even something unimportant can sometimes end up being more important than it might look. This weekend, I had one of those times.

Last week, I published "An ordinary day with ordinary things”, which was pretty much as the title described it. I said in that post, “sometimes it’s important to celebrate the ordinary things in ordinary days,” and I really do think that. This post was going to be another example of that, but once the project I was going to talk about was done, it ended up raising the significance, if not the importanc, of that project.

First, the project: I had to fix a problem with the box that connects the TV to the antenna and to the Internet. The TV itself isn’t a “smart TV” (I talked about that TV a couple weeks ago), but the box performs that role. Nigel researched (and tried) several different solutions (as he always did), before settling on one running Android that his research told him was the best there was (as it always did). It worked well for a couple years, with some occasional tweaking and updating from Nigel.

And therein lay the problem: I recently noticed that the “Android box”, as I call it, was no longer connecting to the Internet through the ethernet network connection I had installed precisely for that (a wired connection is usually better/faster for streaming video like Netflix, though I don’t have that right now). This may have been going on for awhile and I simply didn’t realise the extent of the problem because I’ve almost always used the TV just for watching free-to-air TV (Freeview).

I began to try to troubleshoot the problem, with no success. I considered bring in the network guy who set up my home network and servers for me, but I—somewhat stubbornly, probably—was sure I could solve it. And, I did.

It turned out to be some incorrect settings, something I worked out by slow and methodical checking until I found the problem. I changed the settings and everything worked fine. Not for the first time, I fixed this is exactly as Nigel would have—research, and trial and error until succeeding (have I mentioned this wasn’t the first time? It was more like the third major attempt).

That was going to be the point of the story: I fixed something doing what Nigel taught me by example, though he never specifically taught me to how to do that thing. I was proud of myself for fixing it, sure, but I also saw it as a kind of inspirational sort of thing thing: Overcoming, in this case, technological obstacles with methodical determination until I succeeded. I think it’s good to be reminded that sometimes slow and steady really does win the race.

But things changed once I was done fixing the problem, precisely because I fixed the problem.

One of the first things I looked at over the restored Internet connection were some of the latest videos of a young German guy, Marius Hornberger, whose videos on various woodworking projects Nigel and I both enjoyed watching. We were both interested in having a home workshop, which we intended to set up eventually. There are a lot of YouTube Channels on the subject, but what set Marius apart for us was that he was endearing in his dry-humoured nerdiness. Yesterday evening I watched a video of his about a project he was working on that required him to 3D print some parts, and another that he used his CNC router on. Nigel had both of those, of course, but he never lived to see any videos in which Marius used either. Nigel would’ve liked those videos in particular, and he’d probably have liked Marius just a bit more for having and using a 3D printer and a CNC router. It made me sad that Nigel never saw those.

Before watching those videos, I found an app that streams LGBT+ programming for free, and I knew that Nigel would have liked it. I watched a documentary on it, one that Nigel would’ve liked, too.

But I also found an app for a site that streams old movies for free, and that reminded me of how much my life has changed: Nigel hated old movies, especially B&W ones, but even ones in colour. So, I never thought of watching old movies, let alone finding an app to watch them. Besides, maintaining that “Android box” was Nigel’s thing. Until it wasn’t.

And that’s the thing about all this: I fixed yet another technological problem, and that made me both happy and proud of myself, but doing so reminded me of how everything changed when Nigel died. That’s happened in the past, too, but then it was more about how I had to learn how to fix technology, and why, while this time I was also aware of how much my own life has changed over the past year, too. It won’t be the last time any of those things are on my mind.

So, I fixed a technological problem: Yay for me. That enabled me to find new stuff to use that technology for, and it reminded me of how much has changed over the past year. Yay for me? We’ll see.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

AmeriNZ Blog is fourteen

Today, despite all the odds, this blog is fourteen years old. I’m more surprised than anyone that I’m still doing this, and I have no idea how long I’ll keep doing it. But, then, that’s always been the case, hasn’t it?

I published my first post, “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” on September 13, 2006 at 10:53pm NZST. It began as a log of my life as a gay American who moved to New Zealand to be with the man he loved, but by the time I started this blog, that adventure was already eleven years old. I had no way of knowing for certain that last year’s anniversary blog post would be the last celebrating the log of the story of my life in New Zealand with Nigel, but even by then I knew it was possible.

Shortly before I published last year’s “blogaversary” post, we were told that Nigel had liver cancer, and the prognosis at the time was maybe a year or two, and I believed that to be true. Maybe it was just that I desperately wanted it to be true. In any case, in last year’s post I talked about the improbability of achieving my annual blog post goal of an average of one per day, something I still cared about at the time (and not since). I alluded to a difficult journey ahead when I said, “I know that I almost certainly won’t achieve my blogging goal this year, for reasons I’ll explain another time.”

When I wrote that, I thought I’d be busy taking Nigel to treatment and looking after him, not that only a week after that post was published, he’d be dead. That post became my last one until October when I returned to document the dramatic change in my story.

All of which makes this the last significant anniversary before the horrible anniversary a week from today, and this particular anniversary is especially relevant because I only began this blog in the first place because Nigel urged me to do it, something he started suggesting a year or two earlier. This blog, then, as well as my being in New Zealand, are both because of him.

My life is now on an entirely different trajectory to the one I’d planned, the one I blogged about, and this new trajectory is still one I can’t even begin to imagine, much less see. But if the previous fourteen years have shown anything, it’s that I’ll keep talking about my journey, whatever it may be. Until I don’t. Because one thing I learned since last year’s post is to never take anything or anyone for granted, nor to assume any sort of long-life for anything or anyone: Everything ends some day.

But not today, not as I write this post, in advance of its publication. As I’ve done most years, I’ll set this to auto-post at the exact moment I published my original post fourteen years ago. It’s one of the few traditions I have left; I’ll take it.

As always, thanks for joining me on the journey so far.

Previous posts on my blogoversaries:

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Fourth blogoversary (2010)
Fifth blogoversary (2011)
Sixth blogoversary (2012)
Seventh Blogoversary (2013)
Ten years of the AmeriNZ Blog (2016)
The AmeriNZ Blog is eleven (2017)
The AmeriNZ Blog is twelve (2018)
The AmeriNZ Blog is thirteen (2019)

An AmeriNZ Video I made in 2015 explains the origins of the name “AmeriNZ”:

First NZ Labour ad for 2020

The video above is the first 2020 campaign ad for the New Zealand Labour Party. It was released and promoted online this past Friday, and today I saw it on TV for the first time. To me, this looks like a sort of introductory ad, one introducing the themes that will be talked about in the campaign, and possibly in future ads, if any.

I’m sure that at least a couple other parties will have TV ads at some point, and, if so, I may share them, too. I’m no longer making any promises of what or when I’ll blog about something. Still, it’s early days in this election campaign, and I’m sure I’ll have more to day about it.

The New Zealand General Election will be held on Saturday, October 17, but voting begins on October 3.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

25 years ago

25 years ago today, I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, marking the beginning of the story arc I lived for 24 years. Until last year. Since then, it’s been a new story arc, one that in some ways has barely begun.

I left New Zealand later in September 1995, and returned early in November to stay, and I’ve livered here ever since. Something I wrote (twice) in last year’s post has proven to be prophetic. I wrote: “I’m still here, and that’s what matters.”

Last year, I simply meant that I was still in New Zealand, that my story was continuing, because when I said that in the post I had no idea that the particular story that began on September 12, 1995 would end a week later. After that, it really was about me and the fact that I was still here—both in New Zealand, and also alive.

September 12, 1995 was what I’ve often called a “foundation date”, because that’s what it was: It began of the story arc I lived for the following 24 years. On that day Nigel and I met in person for the first time after, following months of online chats, emails, and phone calls. Clearly things worked out alright despite what was, at the time, an extremely unusual start. I suppose that, in a sense, the story’s end—with the fast death of Nigel—was also extremely unusual. Maybe I should’ve expected an unusual end to a story that began unusually, too.

I came to New Zealand to be with Nigel, first as a tourist in September 1995, then to stay the following November. This country became my home, because of my life with Nigel, something I realised was happening even before I began this blog. And because this was the first significant date in our story’s timeline, it’s always been special to me.

Today is also the final anniversary I shared with Nigel. Last year, as with every other, we just said “happy anniversary” to each other, and nothing more. Our “real” anniversary was some seven weeks later, but Nigel didn’t live to see our “real” 24th anniversary, which ended up making that particular September anniversary last year very poignant for me, because there were no more after that. That sort of thing is common enough for people who’ve experienced profound loss, I suppose.

In any case, I’m still here. Is that what matters? I don’t know. I don’t think so, but it’s now what my story is about, and today is still that story’s foundation date.

Previous posts about this anniversary (the first three only mention it):

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)
18 years ago today (2013)
19 years ago today (2014)
Twenty years ago today (2015)
21 years ago today (2016)
22 years ago today (2017)
23 years ago today (2018)
24 years ago today (2019)

This image up top is the "Memory" I shared on my personal Facebook this morning.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

An ordinary day with ordinary things

As usual, lots of stuff that is going on is perfectly ordinary stuff. When it’s a project, major or minor, I blog about it. When it’s not, I make fun of it, as I did in the Facebook status I posted this afternoon. Today was an ordinary day with ordinary things.

It was good to get the front lawn mowed—it had gone from, “yeah, that’ll need a mow soon” to “OMG! I’ve got to mow that as soon as possible!!” over the course of a few days—maybe only a few hours. I don’t know; it’s not like I was actually timing it, or anything. Still, it’s in keeping with the compost bin project I talked about on Sunday, if no other reason than that I put the matted grass clumps I cleaned out from the mower into the bin, as well as a few dried clumps I found that were from the last time I mowed the back lawn. Mainly because I needed some “dry matter” for the bin.

In any event, the batteries are now recharged, and the plan—hope?—is that I can do the back lawn tomorrow. That may require public acknowledgement, too, because sometimes it’s important to celebrate the ordinary things in ordinary days. I just did.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

NZ Labour proposes Matariki Holiday

Yesterday, the New Zealand Labour Party announced that if it wins the General Election next month it will create the country’s 12th public holiday, a winter holiday observing Matariki, the Māori New Year. This is an awesome idea, and well past time.

The holiday would begin in 2022 to allow businesses more time to recover from the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the meantime, a panel of experts will determine the best time for the holiday, since Matariki itself can fall between late May and into June.

The Matariki Public Holiday will be a NZ-specific holidays, celebrating Māori culture, something that is unique in the world, and unlike many of the other public holidays. Being a winter holiday, it could encourage New Zealanders to visit places in New Zealand, generating money for travel, tourism, and hospitality businesses at what is normally a slow time of year.

This also creates the opportunity to create a winter festival around the public holiday, and that, combined with the Māori cultural aspects, also creates the opportunity to draw international tourists—once that’s possible again. Our winter is in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and that may be an additional draw for some tourists sick of hot summer weather.

Naturally, conservatives oppose the idea. They bleat on, as they always do, about the cost to business without ever considering the benefits, both from increased income for many businesses, and also from having happier employees. To far to many on the Right, workers are a nothing but a cost, and never a resource to be nurtured and cared for.

The Opposition, the NZ National Party, has dismissed the idea, though some of them have suggested trading another holiday for a new Matariki one, but somehow I doubt they’d suggest dropping the other winter public holiday, Queen’s Birthday, which isn't celebrated or observed, except fo the annual Honours List and retail sales.

The leader of the far-right self-styled libertarian-ish party got in trouble this week when remarks he made in 2018 resurfaced. Back then, he said that all public holidays were a sign of a “fascist state” (oh, the irony…) because “I don't think the Government needs to tell people when to have a holiday and when to celebrate things." He’s often derisively called “National’s 55th MP” because even though he technically “leads” a different “party”, he’s only in Parliament at all because the National Party gifts him one of their safe electorate seats. He and his mates in the National Party are in lockstep when it comes to promoting the myth that ordinary workers can “negotiate” with their employer over time off.

In fact, National recently proposed eliminating the requirement that businesses provide meal breaks to workers. Why would they do that? "National supports an approach where employees and employers are trusted to work employment matters out themselves in good faith." That’s one of the most hilarious things they’ve said in this campaign, because it’s seldom true when few workers are in unions and by without them or the support of the law, they’re at the mercy of employers who, they have to hope, really are people of “good faith”.

Meanwhile, Labour has moved to protect workers, repealing the anti-worker rules that the previous National Government put in place, in addition to reversing that government’s deep cuts to education and job training programmes. Labour has a strong record to run on, while the opposition parties are promising to make things worse for ordinary workers. Not a hard choice for ordinary working people, really.

It’s hard to see how promising another public holiday could fail to be a winner with ordinary people, and Stuff’s Luke Malpass noted that “most people don't own businesses and so are probably happy to have a new holiday.” He went on to note, though, that “in the current climate, ironically created by the Government, both debt and sacrifice are uppermost in people’s minds. How a holiday will fit into that remains to be seen.” He concludes: “It is however a bold and confident statement in what may otherwise prove to be a long and dour election campaign dominated by a disease.”

As popular as a new holiday may be, I don’t personally see it becoming a major issue in this campaign: The people who back it probably already back Labour or the Labour-led Government, while those dead set against it don’t. But with the opposition parties staking out unpopular positions when they don’t have to, effectively scoring political own-goals, there’s no way this proposal will hurt Labour. In fact, if anything the Right’s many own-goals suggest that Labour doesn’t even need it to help win the election.

Still, a week is a long time in politics, and our election isn’t until next month. I just don’t expect the opposition parties will suddenly start running positive campaigns, and that may turn out to make all the difference.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Is the video end nigh?

It looks like my Weekend Diversion posts may become rare again: Today NZ broadcaster Mediaworks announced that their TV channels were being sold to American company, Discovery, Inc. The network already owns NZ channels Living Channel (a lifestyle channel only on pay TV), Food Network NZ (a NZ localised version of the company’s own Food Network, and only on pay TV), Choice TV, a general broadcaster that’s on both pay TV and free-to-air, and HGTV New Zealand. Discovery Inc.’s flagship channel, Discovery Channel, is available on our pay TV service. If the sale is approved, I think it’s inevitable that the two music video channels I watched when they popped up earlier this year will be going away. Again.

Back in May, I talked about the return of the music video channel I always used to watch, and I noted that the company that ran them was for sale. That channel, and other “softer” music video channel were branded for two of the company’s radio stations. Since the company is keeping its radio stations, not selling them to Discovery, Inc., it seems highly improbable that the new owners will keep the music video channels. But I have no idea what they’ll do with them.

The company’s international division, which owns the two NZ TV channels, owns a lot of channels around the world, so they have some options for what to use when replacing the two music video channels. It seems unlikely to me that they wouldn’t do that: They already own the programming, don’t need to license the content, and it would be much cheaper than making programming for New Zealand. Will they make the programming more “international”? There’s a part of me that will be interested to see what they choose.

As part of the deal, Discovery, Inc. will get the broadcast rights to Bravo TV in New Zealand (which is somewhat localised, and both pay TV and free-to-air), along with the existing TV channel, Three, which is the main competitor to government-owned TVNZ (like their channels, Three is both pay TV and free-to-air).

It’s possible that regulators will shoot down the sale because it will concentrate a lot of channels ion the hands of one company. But aside from the two music video channels, the only new ones they’re acquiring are Bravo and Three, and therein lies the problem for them: Choice, which they already own, is the largest independent free-to-air broadcaster after the company that’s just been sold. In other words, there would be two companies that would control all free-to-air TV in New Zealand (pay TV operator Sky TV owns Prime TV, and that free-to-air and pay TV channel is the only other significant free-to-air channel in New Zealand—and that's just one channel. Discovery’s hope may be that regulators decide that since the new merged Discovery, Inc. operations would be much larger than the two were separately, it'd be much stronger competition for TVNZ, which is by far the dominant broadcaster. We should know by the end of the year.

One way or another, I still expect the two music video channels to go away at some point, either through re-purposing by Discovery, Inc., or if that sale is rejected by regulators, then they may just be shut down to reduce costs. That’ll leave Juice TV, which I mentioned back in May, and sometime video programming on TVNZ’s Duke channel (called, cutely, “Duke Box”). But there’s no guarantee either will be broadcast music videos often enough, or that their videos will be interesting enough, for future Weekend Diversion posts. We’ll—ahem—see.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Weekend Diversion: Yazoo

Earlier this week I told the story of a dream I had, one that revolved around a Yazoo song, “Only You”. I realised then that I’d never talked about them in any great detail. In fact, I only ever mentioned them in a Weekend Diversion post about Erasure back in 2011. It’s time to fix that oversight.

I have to begin, though by acknowledging an uncomfortable fact: The videos I share may be geoblocked. I’ve never done a post like this knowing that it’s possible that all the videos might be geoblocked, but this is justified, I think.

Yazoo (known as Yaz in the USA) was a synth-pop duo made up of Vince Clarke and singer Alison Moyet. Clarke was originally part of Depeche Mode, and he and Moyet had known each other in school. They released two albums in eighteen months: Upstairs at Eric’s (released in August 1982) and You And Me Both (released in July 1983). And that was that. Moyet went on to a solo career, and Clarke went on to form Erasure with Andy Bell.

What all this means is that several groups that I really liked are all linked, at least partly, to Vince Clarke: Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Assembly, and Erasure, and Alison Moyet. There aren’t many other interconnecting performers I can think of, but maybe there are more than I realise.

In any event, the video up top is a different version of “Only You” (the 1999 mix) to the one I shared the other day. It was Yazoo’s first single, released in the UK in March 1982, and the USA the following November. It reached Number 6 in Australia, 2 in the UK, and 67 on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100”. It didn’t chart in New Zealand. There was a cover version of it the following year, done by the UK a cappella group the The Flying Pickets. That version was the Christmas Number One in 1983 in both the UK and Ireland [WATCH/LISTEN].

Their next single was their 1982 single, “Don’t Go”:

This one is a little complicated. This was the second official single, but their third single, "Situation", was originally the B side of “Only You”, and released in the USA before “Don’t Go”. But more about that later. “Don’t Go” reached Number 6 in Australia, 22 in New Zealand, 3 in the UK (Silver), and Number 1 in the Billboard “US Hot Dance Club Play”.

Their third official single, and second in the USA, was “Situation”:

The version above is “Situation '90 (Alternative People Version)”, which is a remix of the original. It gives a feel for what the original version was like, though updated. “Situation” reached Number 31 in Canada, Number 1 in the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100”, and Number 1 in the Billboard “US Hot Dance Club Play”. It didn’t chart in Australia or New Zealand. I’m unclear on when it was released in Australia and New Zealand—whether it was the third or second single released in those countries.

And finally, my favourite Yazoo song back in the day, 1983’s “Nobody’s Diary”:

The song was the first and only single from their second album, You And Me Both, and was released in May 1983. It was written by Alison Moyet. It hit 17 in Australia, 14 in New Zealand, 3 in the UK (Silver) and Number 1 in the USA’s Billboard “Dance Club Songs”.

As for the albums, Upstairs at Eric’s reached Number 10 in Australia, 49 in Canada, 9 in New Zealand, 2 in the UK (Platinum), and 92 in the USA’s Billboard “Hot 200” (Platinum). Their second and final album, You and Me Both reached 21 in Australia, 33 in Canada, Number 1 in New Zealand, Number 1 in the UK (Gold), and 69 in the USA’s Billboard “Hot 200”.

These four songs are the ones I knew the best, mainly because I heard them in clubs at the time, and because my friend from childhood, Doug, introduced me to their music (and later, Erasure’s, too). In fact, Doug introduced me to a lot of the 1980s music I love to this day. I still listen to all that music, and I still feel the excitement of the time—being young, newly out, and seeing a world that seemed to be filled with possibility, despite Reagan being in the White House. For me, the music isn’t nostalgic as such, but more the very real soundtrack to my life in those days.

I liked Yazoo’s music, and the duo’s later work, too. But “Nobody’s Diary” back then, and “Only You” at the moment, are by far my favourite Yazoo tracks, and I don’t think that’s likely to change.

A weekend project

This weekend I took on another project, this time one I actually did myself. I also completed it. Yesterday, I assembled a compost bin (photo above) I bought three weeks ago. It, in turn, is part of a larger project, one I’m only just resuming. And there are stories for all of those parts.

When one has a house with a yard (often, even usually, called a garden in New Zealand), it means maintaining the gardens. Even when everything is mature and growing well, there’s still work to be done. I’be blogged several times about mowing my lawns, but there’s far more to do, since there was nothing here when I moved in. I called this larger project “terraforming” the un-landscaped property, and ultimately it will include planting the garden as well as landscaping work.

However, one ongoing project, aside from mowing the lawns, will be weed removal. Some of them I could poison, or I could use my preferred method of pouring boiling water on them (I prefer that because it’s safe for the dogs). Sometimes, though, the weeds either get away from me or they’re too stubborn for either of those methods, and pulling them out is the only solution.

However, once a weed is pulled out, where does it go? They can’t be thrown into the ordinary household rubbish, and hiring a service to collect garden waste is out of the question when I have so little garden waste. I could collect it and take it the waste transfer station, for a fee, and even they don’t necessarily accept all weeds.

The obvious solution, especially because I have such small needs, is a compost bin here at home. And that’s where this particular project began.

I knew I wanted one that rotated (to make it easy to turn the compost), and there are quite a few varieties on the market—horizontal, vertical, big and small. I knew I liked the horizontal ones, and I first thought about getting one like we had at our last house in Auckland (a photo of it is in a post from May, 2018). That bin is quite large, but its main drawback was that the hatch cover screws on and gets stuck: I hammered my fingers several times trying to get it open, and I also had trouble getting it back on and closed when I was done. It’s one redeeming quality was that it had wheels, making it easier to move around, but that was somewhat negated by the fact that when it was fully loaded, it was very heavy. It also only had one large chamber

I ruled that one out because of all its negatives, and because I decided I wanted one with two smaller chambers, rather than one large one. I was first drawn to expensive ones (as usual…), including one with two entirely separate chambers that rotated independently, and one with a sort of crank and ratchet system to help rotate the bin (because everything was plastic, I was dubious how long it would work).

In the end I went for a simpler one with a plastic divider between the two chambers. The packaging may provide a better idea how it works:

The bin before assembly. This is as close to an "unboxing" post as I'm likely to get. 

The idea is that you fill one side, then when it’s full, you let it sit to cook while you fill the other side. Then you empty the first side, and start over. The doors are interchangeable, and one has a “+” on it to indicate which side the new material goes in to. Meanwhile, you rotate the whole thing to keep turning the compost to help it cook faster.

The bin I got was probably the fiddliest thing I’ve ever put together: Not difficult, just fiddly. It had 54 screws (I’ve learned from experience that when I’m assembling something, it’s important to check all the pieces are there, and to count the screws provided to make sure there’s enough. There were).

The bin I got isn’t perfect: It doesn’t have wheels, which would be nice, and it doesn’t have any sort of locking pin to keep the opening on top. Our one in Auckland had both, though they were often very hard to use. I could probably improvise some sort of locking pin, but that’s not critical.

On the other hand, the plastic parts seem pretty robust, and them using locking nuts (rather than ordinary ones) made it quite easy to assemble by myself, in around an hour, which was including the time it took to count the parts and read the assembly instructions (another thing experience has taught me to do).

The next step is to pull a bunch of weeds and chuck them in the compost bin. Soon, I’ll spray the lawns with a “weed and feed” liquid that kills broadleaf weeds and fertilises the grass (I know lots of people who swear by it), and this will reduce the number of lawn weeds I’ll need to manually remove. Basically, I want to get the lawns established as well as I can before summer (though at the moment there are predictions of a cool, wet summer, so drought-like conditions may not be a problem this year).

It would help if the weather had cooperated so I could mow the lawns regularly, but the days have been too wet, too cold, or both. It’s now been a month since I mowed the back lawn, and it’s as long now as it was then, when it had a six week growth. The front lawn, meanwhile, has barely grown at all (it clearly needs the most work of the two): It’s been about three months since I last mowed it! On the other hand, the weeds in it are getting quite long, which is, again, why I needed the compost bin.

Now that I have the bin, I’ll have somewhere to put weeds when I pull them, and that means it’ll be somewhat easier for me to keep on top of the job, energy/stamina permitting, of course. At least now I don’t have the barrier of trying to figure out what to do with the weeds I pull out.

This weekend’s project was quite small by itself, but it’s an important part of the larger project to landscape the property and establish nice gardens. That’ll probably be the main project I talk about in the coming months. Right now, though, one more thing is checked off the list.

Update – September 7: Today I pulled the weeds in the rain garden out in front of the house (which really should be a story on its own), and that plus a few other rather large weeds from the front lawn that I also pulled filled half the new compost bin. Oops. As they start to wilt and break down, there will be more room in that half, but I thought that was funny. And typical.