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PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog

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taipoutiniblog

Playwright, writer and cultural activist living in Blackball on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

The aesthetic of the inarticulate

Over in Christchurch for a couple of days I went with Leigh to the film Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always. An eighteen year old college girl finds she’s pregnant but can’t get an abortion in Pennsylvania. Supported by her cousin, who steals some money from the supermarket where they both work weekends, she goes to New York for the procedure. Because she is over ten weeks it requires them staying there for two days. In between clinic appointments they are too broke to afford accommodation so roam the streets and the malls and ride the subway. The title of the film comes from interview questions from the counsellor as she asks about abusive sexual experiences (Never, rarely etc.).

The cousin is more outgoing but the central character is shut away within her inarticulate self. Her integrity is her inarticulateness. She suffers the experience and has no words for it. The relationship with her family is mute. Her relationship with her cousin is equally wordless, other than a couple of small moments of tenderness. Their home town looks singularly grim. New York is serial and the women in the clinic locked into procedure. The film is brilliantly acted and photographed, but at the end I was left with the question: Why has all the scripting, photography and editing – the whole machinery of articulation –  been devoted to create an oppressed silence without a glimmer of hope. Is it because hope would have been a romantic lie? Is it that these young women and their families are trapped in a nihilism where no one is capable of comprehending their experience. Is that the reality or is it the filmmaker’s perception of that reality? The filmmaker, after all, has chosen. What would Brecht have shown? Or Boal? Brecht was always keen to show with clarity the oppression caused by capitalist economic structures and is famous for that profound moment of silent articulation:  Mother Courage’s voiceless scream. Boal would insist on replaying the action and for the audience to explore with the actors, other choices. Boal insists on articulation and clarity. Leigh meanwhile, focused on the role of the women in the clinic. How could this young woman be supported, even while rejecting support?

As we talked, the plot of the film began to unravel and we became aware of moments of mystification: Was the girl’s father an abuser? If so, why not make it clear? Who was the father of the baby? Why was he not relevant? Why not allow the relationship of the two girls to develop? How did she find her cousin and the boy after they had vanished into the streets of New York? Would the women in the recovery room ignore one another?  Why couldn’t she talk to her mother? What conversation would she have with her mother when she returned home? These mystifications are necessary for the girls to remain inarticulate.

When we googled the filmmaker we found the intent was to make a pro abortion film. Presumably, if abortion were available in her home town, greater dialogue would have been possible? Although she didn’t want her parents to know, so dialogue with whom? And the final question: Who is going to see the film? Would the two girls at its centre sit through an art film? Unlikely. The portrayal of oppression involves aesthetic choices which are also political choices on the part of the artist. To deny the working class articulation in the interests of art is a serious decision to make: Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?

Despair (2)

A preview performance of our stories at Red Books went well. Performing is always healing, as is the coherence of a story formed and perfected. For a moment the dross falls away and clarity is achieved. The contradictions and ironies become the sinews of reality. For a moment.

Only one mask wearer, who in a situation of presence was absent. And that is one function of the mask, to protect oneself against the presence of the other and to protect the other against one’s own presence, to become effectively, as absent as possible. That is the rationality for the burqa, to protect the woman against serial male desire and to protect the woman from reciprocating. Presence and desire are then privatised to the patriarch’s bedroom.

A contrary function of the mask is to allow freedom of the libido, as in the carnival. For the Zapatista the mask protects the ‘we’ from the state gaze. And one of the ironies of any mandatory mask wearing will be to sabotage CCTV and facial recognition systems.

Meanwhile, the Greenland ice cap has melted. The canary is dead with barely a mention in the media.

Back to the despair of trying to forge different relationships in the real world. There’s a bulk food store for sale in Greymouth, the perfect venture for Te Puawai Co-op to facilitate an Invercargill style venture (www.thepantry.co.nz) where such a facility is run by a collective which involves people with a disability. Despite Provincial Growth Funds, mayoral job funds, Development West Coast, employment schemes, wage subsidies, various NGOs advocating for the disabled, there is no effective interest. If we did get something off the ground a saboteur would appear, a system centred buyer. For the sake of some minimal capital nothing transformative will happen outside the sphere of art.

The Greenland ice cap has melted. The canary is dead.

A sign outside a café: Now that you have learned to wash your hands children, we will learn to put our chairs under our desks neatly.  Jacinda has become over exposed. There’s a visceral rebellion welling up which could seriously fragment the political landscape.

A commentator has described the current world as no longer capitalist, but neo feudal, with kings and queens, an aristocracy, a gentry, guilds of skilled workers, and at the bottom serfs no longer tied to land but tied to pracarity: a cheap rental if you’re lucky, or a cheap car, a shopping trolley, a sleeping bag, a cell phone if you’re unlucky… Within this the search for transformative relationship is hugely difficult: how to create the autonomous zone, the commune, how to link up effectively while respecting diversity? There are promising signs that the new age impulse is becoming politicised, past the privilege of food choice, life style block and mouse-click environmentalism, leading to the seeking of relations of solidarity not within or against but outside the feudal system.

Signs and signals.

I suddenly remember our production of Oedipus in the late seventies, couched as an environmental statement, something which I didn’t quite understand at the time; but now it’s obvious: the cursed baby (Western civilisation) saved by a shepherd’s sympathy (think Christ), grows up amongst strangers, loses his temper and kills a man at the crossroads (colonisation), solves the riddle (science), marries his mother in order to become king (the industrial revolution), the plague descends and in trying to find a solution he discovers his own culpability; the solution is to blind himself and go into the wilderness.

The Greenland ice cap has melted. The canary is dead.

A moment of despair

As the local establishment repeatedly demonstrate a lack of vision, living on the Coast can occasionally lead to despair. A lot of the debate, discussion – conversation is the latest term – has not taken place, so there is a going back to the beginning, and having been through the process years ago, it can feel tiresome.

Take the issue of support for the arts. Despite the arts being useless (not providing food or shelter), people have always created. It’s as basic as language. Once we moved past tribal or village life and more hierarchical and then capitalist relations took hold, and as the arts are labour intensive and considered a public good, the necessity of patronage, particularly public patronage became accepted. The debate around that patronage has been complex, circling around issues of privilege and excellence, mass participation and democratic purpose. Of late relationship to tourism and trade generated a creative industries concept and the community arts model has always been present, as has the therapeutic impulse. And then there’s Maori art and Pasifika art…

After advocacy for regional funding took place, Creative NZ has introduced a regional arts fund and I intuited that a coherent regional strategy would assist applications from the Coast. However, the CNZ model has a requirement to have contributions from regional stakeholders, in order to add value.

This creates a problem on the Coast for there is a sparse corporate sector, and councils are small and stretched. However there is an economic development body and this body should become the significant stakeholder. And I’m not talking about a big contribution: five to ten thousand dollars a year would possibly bring in forty to fifty thousand dollars. All good, gather a network of local artists, write a strategy and approach the body with what seems like a win-win situation – only to find they have little idea what I’m talking about.

– Writer in residence? What are the outcomes of that? A summer Shakespeare? A story telling tour of small towns? Where are the jobs? We’re on about the real world…

– But-

– There’s this proposal to barge shingle to Auckland. Some American company are looking at garnet mining. We’ve got a number of small business proposals. And we run entrepreneurial workshops.

– Don’t you see that stories generate stories and that the economy is simply a story? How do you quantify the knowledge that there’s a well known writer come to town to write a book? How do you quantify that there’s some actors coming to join locals to rehearse Hamlet and that you can then go and see the play and people will come from elsewhere? How do you quantify the outcome of listening to a story about a local inspirational teacher in the 1930s? How do you quantify a community film project which gives young people opportunities to be on a crew?

– Sorry, all too vague. That shingle project will generate 4 jobs.

– This is so dumb.

– I don’t like your tone. You won’t get anywhere with a tone like that.

It’s like negotiating with Jesuits. They only listen to themselves and a narrow ideology of clichés, whereas the activist has to listen, analyse what is being heard and then focus on an image, nurturing that image, seeking resonance with the wider community. The activist is operating from within a creative model, not perpetuating a bureaucratic, quasi religious order.

The despair comes then from this realisation of probable impasse. But to despair for too long or too often is poisonous. What to do becomes the question? It is of course what the Zapatista understood early on and they came to the conclusion that a parallel system was the only answer.

The business of writing

As part of developing a literature programme centred on Blackball (which has a literary and activist tradition), the co-op running the programme gained funding from Creative NZ for a 4 week residency  in a miner’s cottage donated for the purpose by West Coast historian, Brian Wood. There was a modest stipend attached. A kaupapa was set: working class, activist, possibly looking at the portal to the future, Coast referenced – and writers at any stage of their career could apply.

The response has been considerable and as the cottage was described as Spartan and the stipend is around the minimum wage, it has to be the kaupapa that has attracted people. Given the book market ever more narrowly focusing on crime, romance, cooking, gardening, health and biographies of sporting heroes, there is hope in this.

Reading through the applications I was surprised by the range of writing and writers. Universities play a big role, with writing courses almost obligatory; and then the specialties. History offers employment opportunities especially through tiriti claims, there are technical writers employed by corporates and government departments, people write about architecture and heritage sites for councils and DOC, there’s the educational market, the health market, the advocacy market, there is biography and memoir, there’s journalism, blogs and opinion pieces for web sites and newspapers, before we get to fiction with its genres and poetry with its personal vision.

There are the myriad competitions and on line journals and magazines. The successful writer becomes either a toolkit (the technical writer) or a brand offering content for a researched market. Readings, book signings, festival appearances  and interviews become a performance. Every publication, every speech given, every workshop held is necessarily recorded. Brand and voice become blended. It requires a lot of diligent work for the free-lancer who remains poorly paid and it is still best to nestle somewhere in a university department if at all possible. Writers of fiction are apt to find themselves dreaming of the best seller which can bring fame and fortune. And then of course there are the intermediaries: publishers and editors and marketers and patrons.

It’s a minor industry and begins with the solitary person confronted with the blank page or the empty word document. It has certainly made me ponder, for I write primarily in order to work out what I’m thinking. If I don’t write I begin to feel like a clogged up drain. Is that useful to anyone else? Sometimes. It means I can read someone else working out what they’re thinking and comment effectively. And vice versa. If there’s a story involved that’s a bonus. But there’s always a story involved. As Berger says, writing is an approach to experience and prior to printing and capitalist production sits the storyteller, surrounded by the whanau after the day’s work has been done, feeding the imagination and making sense of the world.

See how quickly one travels from the market place. The cave, the fire, the miner’s cottage. A sense of place. A promise of a better world.

Maybe this rapid movement away from the market place led to the flood of applications? Perhaps that movement is what is now necessary? The European left has a new paradigm: not the market, not the state, but people to people.

story telling

Ironies

The ironies in the current political landscape, woven by the Covid virus, continue to unfold. In a climate of NZ first, the NZ First Party, built around that very agenda, is threatened with collapse.  The xenophobia has been mainstreamed into a kindlier version. It is no longer about appealing to a certain red neck and pearl and twinset sector of the regional population but has shifted to the urban liberals where the grumpy and cantankerous patriarchal role as played by Winston and Shane is not acceptable. And then there is the mainstreaming of Social Credit policy. After ninety years of being marginal and eccentric (‘funny money’) the idea of low-interest state credit is suddenly top of the pops. The party stalwarts stir in their graves.

Just below the surface of things the memory of the first 1935 Labour Government is being evoked. It was the longest running Labour government (14 years), Micky Savage was a kindly figure, and Bob Semple and his wheelbarrow is replaced by shovel ready projects (with diggers and dump trucks) but the agenda is the same: jobs.

Travel ahead to the war – leaders love the crisis of war – this time the war is the war on Covid, but as in any war situation the persecutor-victim-rescuer syndrome becomes the dominant pattern. We have been rescued from foreign invasion but the threat of persecution remains. Suddenly poor old David Clarke is the persecutor for stating the reasonably obvious: once policy is set, management is responsible for administering it. Ashleigh Bloomfield became the victim in need of rescuing through a gift of cut flowers. The compassionate lockdown leavers (victims of family circumstance) became persecutors. Returning Kiwis, like returning soldiers, threaten the national purse. Bunjy jumping is having to be rescued but that somehow persecutes small businesses, Our kindness doesn’t extend to work visa holders who could become swaggers reminiscent of those depression blokes wandering from farm to farm and sleeping in the woolshed. Somehow they don’t figure, are a sort of non people who will hopefully disappear.

A mythical homeless person inveigled themselves into a quarantine hotel (the hotels must be doing alright out of this) and supposedly lived in lockdown luxury – was he a persecutor, a victim, or was he being rescued? The new Greymouth hospital overruns its budget by 60 million (80%) and I wonder whether the old one couldn’t have been fixed up for far less. The Pike exercise has rescued a broken robot and a review of the health and disability sector, led by Helen Clark’s fix-it person forgot to consult the disability sector. The most technologically advanced country in the world can’t manage to do postal voting and I’m getting confused whether a document is on my computer, on my backup hard drive or on google docs or on all three and if the latter, whether they’re the same document. Meanwhile my daughter showed me the hotspot and tethering function on my phone, we tried it out briefly and the next day the offer of a new plan arrived. I didn’t get paranoid but did wonder whether we are being constantly processed by algorithms and if so, why there isn’t an algorithm that picks up viruses.

Meanwhile Rocket Lab sends up satellites for the US military and we are reassured that the 5 Eye system remains benign. We have sufficient morality to modestly protest the Israeli takeover of the West Bank (confirming Palestinian victimhood) but not sufficient to whimper against the US blockade of Cuba (persecuted because they refused to be victims).

Roll on NZ first.

Portal to something new? Forget it.

As life returns to normal, it’s necessary to wonder about lost opportunity. The gist of the recovery is to recover a temporarily-halted consumerism. The government has been generous in terms of subsidising workers and companies, keeping an eye on rents and mortgages, giving money to artists, rugby, racing and beer. Millions here, millions there and doubling the government debt in doing so. But money is not an issue. The world is generally awash with capital, with debt tolerated except for the severely irresponsible (like the Greeks). All that fiscal responsibility the coalition signed up to was a fig leaf to confuse the recalcitrant business sector. The irony is that there wasn’t anything to hide. Obviously the tourist industry is in dire straits, as is Air NZ, with a very slow recovery in the offing, for closed borders will continue for some time. Environmental concerns have taken a back seat, farmers are triumphant and extractivists are saying, I told you so. There’s a sort of return to the fifties. In terms of foreign policy we’re minding our own business and turning a blind eye to the malevolent treatment of Cuba by the US and its encouraging of Israel to continue colonising the West Bank. And the China problem? Let’s keep quietly quiet. After all we’ve defeated the virus which everyone is tired of hearing about so it will somehow disappear into being a third world problem.

If ever there was a time when a Universal Basic Income could have been introduced it was the last month or so, for many were on an unofficial UBI. It would still have been a difficult process for it would have meant a gentle restructuring of the economy. With the UBI, livelihood is separated from the capitalist merry go round of futures, derivatives, global milk prices and so on. There is, as well as the merry go round, a coherent community and government economy which generates livelihood rights as had to happen with the lockdown. There remains a dialectical relationship but one can learn to move between cultures. The market will continue to stumble, rise, swear and sweat, endlessly change, produce its millionaires and billionaires, its celebrities and scandals and like peasants, we will watch with screwed up eyes. People will participate as they can and as they want, but some choice exists, for the basic platform of life, which we all need and struggle for, would be a little more secure. In countries without national super, the sight of old people begging is dreadful, but surely children and parents begging is equally dreadful, yet begging and the accompanying charity, is taking place on an industrial scale and no one really protests.

In a time of increasing turmoil, to have introduced the UBI would have been a kind thing to do. So why not seize the opportunity? Why not, like the capitalists, use the crisis? Was it a failure of nerve, a lack of belief, a cultural problem of ministers being of an urban, petit bourgeois, liberal persuasion? Was it simply a betting on winning the next election with crisis-earned capital? Hard to know, but as a result, there is a feeling of ennui, a lack of motivation, a lack of courage. It seems some people are having anxiety attacks at having to return to the bustle of the stranger, suffering from a sort of agoraphobia of the soul, something my adopted mother suffered from. Some then will stay in the shadows, others will party up with the intensity of the six o’clock swill, we’ll watch Dan Carter play for the Blues and the America Cup will go ahead. Corona will disappear because people are literally, sick of it. The establishment wants rid of Trump and the crazies won’t be able to save him, nor will the military bosses roll in the tanks – he’s not their sort of guy and he’d had more than his ten minutes of fame. Uncle Joe Biden will stumble through and there’ll be enough media space for the climate events as the planet continues to rid itself of this problem species, helped of course, by the problem species.

On the road

Having a week or so spare and the weather forecast promising, I headed off, driving to St Arnaud, then hopping on my bike to ride to Wellington – a necessary time out and a good way to get fit again. Not much traffic through the Wairau and a splendid night camping at Kowhai Point, before things got busier nearer the ferry terminal.

Hitting the city the bubble concept made sense – it never really had in a place like Blackball, distance is there anyway. In the city, despite the density of population everyone feels separate. The fragile people have been scared. Often the fear in the past has been of burglars, gangs etc, but now the virus took precedence. I popped into the local op shop to say hello to Heather who runs it, but op shops. she told me, are difficult in the current era: have to leave donations for two days then cleanse everything; the shop is small – how do we socially distance, volunteers can’t work because they’re old or otherwise vulnerable…

In town I noticed the lack of posters for events. One of the chief reasons for cities to exist has gone; the theatre, the concert, the art gallery, the museum, the sports game… The spectacle is about concentrated presence. The specialty shops felt desultory. Add people working from home and zoom meetings, what’s the point of all the infrastructure of motorway, parking buildings, office towers etc. Perhaps the move to ever larger urban conglomerates is finished? Of course there is still the university, the specialty health service; but these could be anywhere. The age of the spectacle may be over, this flying off to watch the test match, to join the cruise ship etc. Nature hovers, ready to return, either benignly or via cyclone, flood and fire.

I settled in and first impressions faded. I lunched with family on Sunday at a great venue in Cuba Street with many out and about. The food was excellent and food allergies were noted and catered for. I enjoy this branch of the family. Everyone is a bit precarious; jobs in call centre or marketing, running a small business, one unemployed temporarily, my sister in a retirement village but people regularly moving through to the rest home. The kids have their interests, surfing or motorbike racing or NZ history and their mother is strong and generous. They are surviving well enough and at this late stage of life I can belong to family without a sense of alienation.

And then an evening with Omar and Serena and their two beautiful daughters. Serena enjoyed the lack of cars during lock down, people taking over the roads. Having to distance made people in this flash suburb friendlier. As they moved aside they smiled. We talked about the role of the mad and the marginalised in a city like Wellington, providing a necessary sense of the other, a sort of touchstone.

Next morning, after an earthquake, I biked across town in a southerly, the rain covering my glasses so that I felt underwater, and the feeling of precariousness returned. Drying off at Malcolm’s the radio talked of the economy and the new National Party leadership. Nothing settles for long. It is a time of flux, of breakdown, of decay, with technology somehow providing a centre of contact, a stability.

I began packing for the return home, praying that the weather forecast was right and that the southerly would pass by morning.

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Cultures and Viruses

Having had a Mayday celebration in Blackball continuously for the last 23 years and with locked-out Milton worker, Colin Weatherall travelling here to attend all of them, it felt wrong not to mark the occasion in some way, so I sent out a notice inviting locals to assemble briefly for the singing of Solidarity for Ever, with Colin on the end of his phone in Milton.

wobblies

Solidarity for Ever was written by Ralph Chaplin during a major strike in the US in 1915. Chaplin was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies) and the song has become the union anthem. The message is simple: We the workers are pitted against the bosses and if we band together we can remove them from their position of ‘haughty power’ and take control of economic production. The state doesn’t get a mention as an agent of change and the IWW was an anarcho-syndicalist organisation, liking neither the capitalist ‘democratic’ state nor state socialism.

As the ten people assembled for our little ceremony I waved them closer for the singing and the greeting of Colin, but there was a shaking of heads and muttering of ‘social distancing’. We’ve been locked down in Blackball for five weeks, there have been no cases here, no active cases on the Coast for three weeks, the likelihood of us giving one another Covid 19 as we sang Solidarity for Ever was as likely as a virgin birth.

IMG-2235

I felt once again, the barriers, both internal and external that have been set up and the tensions. When will it be possible to throw a ball for another person to catch? We wait for the state to say to kids, Now you can hug your grandma. It’s looking like the bargain will be, When everyone downloads the tracking app. Then the state will know where you’ve been and who you’ve been in contact with. That’s the price of intimacy.

I have felt recalcitrant during the lockdown. For a start it has been authoritarian with one size fits all regulations which always create absurdities: what’s the difference between a 69 year old and a 70 year old? If the fish shop can stay open, why not the salami shop or the bottle store? Was there any reason for the blokes to stop working on the Croesus Road, six of them in their machines – sort out something for the tea breaks, perfect opportunity, no traffic? How come there was no money for teachers, then there was and now there’s money to throw around? Except the community-based midwives continue to be left out. Act as if you have the virus and as if everyone else has the virus – but I know I don’t and I know that no one else here has it. And don’t be sceptical, that’s selfish. In the old Eastern Europe, people were bedevilled by regulations yet were openly cynical, while keeping an eye out for informers. We had an informer in Blackball – took to it like a bee to a jam making session. Paranoia, distancing, no touching, be obedient and the rules are for your own good and think of the poor vulnerable people. We were suddenly in the new entrants class with Jacinda the favourite teacher with the kind heart, big smile and great classroom management, backed up by Ashleigh the principal.  Opposition was traitorous. Kneel down and pray to God for Mummy and Daddy and for those in need and forgive us our trespasses. Old themes of sacrifice and obedience, pollution and untouchability were present.

marching girls

I was thrown back to Palmerston North in the 1950s where most lived in their nuclear family ‘bubble’, fences were sacred and don’t have too much to do with the neighbours. There was the same self righteous and sentimental nationalism – New Zealand was God’s own country and on Anzac Day we remembered those who had died for our freedom (of course freedom was a more problematic concept if you were Gay or Maori or had read about the absurd slaughter of the working class in WW1). There was the beginning of the anal obsession with cleanliness, daily showers(showers just coming into being) and deodorant rather than a weekly bath and BO. Long drops were a thing of the past as well as cutting up squares of newspaper for the dunny. Shampoo was invented. Maoris were communal and dirty and Pakeha were individual and clean. Marching girls did their thing, we joined the cubs or the brownies, had military training at high school and we all listened to the rugby and went to church. On the plus side there was full employment, across the board union membership (compulsory) we all had a garden and we manufactured our own clothes, shoes etc.

hippies

The sixties counter cultural movement rebelled against this: communal was good, let your hair grow, don’t wash too much, take off the mask (and the bra), smoke dope and expand your mind, get the hell out of the nuclear family psycho drama, pull down the fences, have a community garden, touching is good, make love not war, the military culture is absurd,  suspect authority and the state, come together in collective rituals where communitas exists – that relationship of mutuality between individuals, respect the wisdom of the indigenous peoples, listen to Gaia. We found a potent symbol in the guerrilla strategy of Ho Chi Minh and Che and the  wildcat Wobblies. There were contradictions of course, a certain narcissism, the movement eventually got colonised by the consumer culture, ‘free’ relationships could become painful and abusive, drugs addled the brain and when the system got stroppy it all faded away under neo-liberalism, except it left lasting cultural antibodies in the bloodstream of those who had experienced it in their formative years.

So, an explanation of the reaction of an old white man who is irrelevant. But nevertheless I ask the question, What comes out the other side? Is this a portal which will see UBI, for instance, permaculture, a new green deal… We have the opportunity but don’t bet on it. It looks like they’ll give the corporates some big bucks to kick start the economy and we’ll race off for a takeaway fix and some consumerism. Already we’re seeing the ‘postponement’ of fair pay agreements, university staff under increasing threat of casualisation… I suspect the list will grow.

The most worrying thing is that people have absorbed the lockdown culture and kids will be taught it with great thoroughness. No touching, keep your distance, watch the screen/ Google docs will reign supreme.

Was there an alternative or was this the real TINA moment? Could they have chosen recommendation rather than regulation, given out the information and said to people: you choose how to deal with this, but this is what we advise. First of all we need to sort out the borders and that will require some assumption of authority as people transition. If you’re vulnerable you should stay at home and we’ll support you. Service providers need to work things out to keep their staff and customers safe. If you get the virus you should tell us, self isolate and we’ll need to trace and test your contacts. Rest homes need to be ultra careful and need to work things out with the residents, their families and staff. Ditto prisons. It’s silly to gather in large close numbers, so please don’t. It’s wise to keep your distance and it’s wise to wash your hands regularly. If you can work from home please do so. Don’t get in a situation where you need help from the emergency services.  I’m sure you can work out how to do public transport. Schools need to figure things out with their parents and students. Some people are going to die, we know that. Most of them will be old and compromised. That’s how it is. If you go into a war zone you might get shot. If you drive a car you might get killed. If you live in an age of globalisation things spread. Let’s be adult and sensible and support one another through this. It’s going to last a while. We’ll update the information as it comes to hand.

Finally, and most importantly, there’s going to be an economic hit but this is actually an opportunity to revamp the economy and make it sustainable. Let’s begin the discussion.

sweden

That’s been the Swedish solution. Commentators are now saying that New Zealand and Sweden are the two top contenders in the contest of dealing best with the virus and only time will tell who the winner is.

 

Dean

In the midst of the corona virus melodrama, normal life and death processes seem to be suspended or unnoticed. Hospitals are vacant and doctors’ surgeries sparsely attended. But last week, playwright, Dean Parker unexpectedly died and grief must be registered, outside his bubble.

Dean was a prolific writer of the well-crafted three act play (so prolific he has at least 38 titles to his credit). Dean’s career paralleled that other writer of well-crafted plays, Roger Hall. But whereas Roger has written about the foibles of the Kiwi middle and wanna-be middle class  (who tend to be the theatre goers) and as a consequence achieved popularity with that mainstream audience, Dean was a leftie who wrote about political subjects and social contradiction, so had a career-long struggle getting his plays produced. Rather than bums on seats he was interested in ideas in the mind. He required a national theatre like the Royal Court with managers who hold onto the Greek democratic tradition of the theatre playing a vital role in the necessary  debates among citizens, rather than the NZ provincial theatres’ struggle to survive as they compete with beers around the barbie and commercial television..

Dean was never bitter about the struggle to get his plays produced and he kept on writing no matter what. Of late, BATS in Wellington proved a more sympathetic venue, with a small theatre company being keen to put on his work.  But a BATS co-op is not capable of providing a living and Dean never bothered the arts council, so he sensibly made his money though writing for film and television. This led to his work helping to found the NZ Writers Guild which set itself up as a trade union negotiating on behalf of writers with the main employers, National Radio and Television and the NZ Producers Association. Despite some initial success this remains an uphill struggle.

Dean became renowned as a script doctor for film projects – if a script wasn’t working send it to Dean. He had a lovely story. Once the producers of a film about to go into production were tearing their hair out over a script that had gone through umpteen versions and called on him to help. Send me the first draft, he requested. They did so and he retyped the script and sent it back with his invoice. That’s it, they enthused, that’s what we’ve been looking for.

He had a sardonic relationship with the Auckland Theatre Company which was logically his production house. But think of the Remuera crowd, they would plead with him as he presented them with another well-crafted play written from within a working class consciousness. Fuck them, he would reply.

Like any expert craftsman he kept himself out of the work, although for a playwright that is difficult. He admitted the influences of Catholicism and his Napier teachers, his mother, the themes and events of the late sixties, the Irish struggles and his flirtation with the Party. He loved James Joyce and Molly Bloom’s monologue. Of all his plays, Greek Fire, set in Cairo during WW11 and with John Mulgan at its centre, seems most like him. Sadly, I don’t think it has ever been produced. I saw a rehearsed reading and it has stayed with me. There was something of the foreign agent to Dean, the cadre in hiding, the monk in his cell, and he felt a kinship with John Mulgan, the Kiwi who wrote Man Alone, went to Oxford, served with the British Army, worked with the Greek resistance, experienced the dreadful betrayal of that country’s left after the war and committed suicide.

Dean remained stalwart during the post-modern fragmentation, was always generous and always ready to meet for a beer at the Grey Lynn Working Men’s Club when I was in Auckland. We would swap yarns. He was the one who suggested a working class museum in Blackball. I never attempted the mainstream theatre but like Dean kept on working no matter what and he appreciated that.

He will be sadly missed, a man out of his time, out of place in some ways, yet resolutely creative, maintaining a culture which , one day, hopefully soon, the world will return to.

RIP comrade.

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