PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog



A weird end to a weird year

Some years back I introduced the idea of a local carol service in the Working Men’s Club. The Greymouth minister was keen. We sit around the bar with a guitar or two and there are books of carols available. For a while there were snatches of service in between the songs but the minister’s dropped that and substituted a quiz halfway through. People enjoy the event, especially some of the oldies. As I strum and sing I wonder whether I’m being a hypocrite, but then it always seems useful to revisit the Christ story, a rather amazing myth which has some historical context. It’s no more fanciful than Maui fishing up the north island or slowing the sun and hypocrisy is not an accusation in that regard and Christianity has been at the heart of European culture. Few of those gathered are practising Christians, but we sing with gusto. In fact the singing has become smarter since the minister started bringing along a very competent guitarist. It’s the closest I get to playing in a band so it’s something I look forward to. And as someone commented, It’s the only Christmassy thing about Christmas. The rest is consumerism.

But this year the event created great controversy. I put out a simple invitation on the local facebook page and it generated eighty responses. For those not vaccinated weren’t able to come  – the Club being a bar can only admit the jabbed. But surely a carol service should be inclusive, the story is about inclusivity, Christ was born for all of us etc. etc.? How can a carol service discriminate?

The anti vaccers in Blackball run the gamut from anti 1080 to professionals, with all the shades between: of conspiracy, of deaths unreported, of dislike of government regulation and mandates, to big pharma profiteering to species arrogance… And it is all hypothetical, because I can guarantee that last Sunday night no one in Blackball had covid. No one in Blackball has ever had covid.  So the debate is in many ways, mythological, like the Christ story or Maui acquiring fire.

Anyway, we sang our carols, the crowd was slightly reduced. There were no protestors outside. Perhaps there should have been; but it’s simpler to socially message. And it did seem a fittingly weird end to a weird year.

A Christmas greeting

As the level of surveillance increases. I do find it an increasingly medieval world. Not only facebook etc,  but insurance companies and government departments use spies and another US state passes a law which means you lose your job or contract if you participate in the Boycott and Divest movement against Israel, even in the gentlest way – for example by not buying a humus made in Israel. And Congress is about to pass a law making it a criminal offence to boycott Israel, which now becomes a new Holy Land, to be taken from the infidel.

Meanwhile, children are endlessly monitored in their learning, no longer the occasional exam to gauge progress but weekly results reported to the MOE. The 3 Rs have been analysed to the nth degree in terms of stages. The use of metaphor is no longer a discovery, no longer something organic, but taught like a military drill. Thou shalt use metaphor on Wednesday, simile on Friday.

Cargo cults form. Suddenly sports teams take ice baths after games. Very unpleasant it seems, with no evidence of benefit, but it becomes a bonding ritual, this experiencing of pain together. There are often insufficient baths so wheelie bins are commandeered. The mind boggles at the image of the nation’s sports people sitting in wheelie bins packed with ice on a Saturday afternoon. What’s the figure of speech?

In the midst of chaos, Joan of Arc appears in the form of fifteen year old Greta Thumberg, labelled as Aspergic (if that’s a word) because she studied the climate change issue and became depressed that such a crisis could be wilfully ignored. She started to go to parliament and sit on the steps with a placard rather than go to school.  She’s become something of a phenomenon because she tells the truth.

‘…we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

‘But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.’

Perhaps it will simply mean that Greta has her ten minutes of fame. I hope not. Perhaps all the children of the world will opt out of surveillance and data collection and ice baths and simply overthrow the system in a truly symbolic moment that will not fit the achievement model held by the MOE.

Meanwhile, there are some lovely anticipations of a future world happening, for example, kids going to school on a bike bus. Bike buses might become a universal means of transport. Mary, Joseph and little Jesus, the three wise men and the shepherds all pedalling toward Jerusalem to burn down the US embassy. And the Australian; and the Saudi Arabian, plus the settlements…


Take care.

All the c’s


Convolvulus is an extraordinarily aggressive weed at this time of year. The chicken coop is under attack. I tear at it but also know that every piece left lying around will produce a new tendril. It seems you have to burn it. I haven’t the time or patience for total eradication and at least it dies off in winter.  But as Christmas approaches it becomes a useful metaphor.

For convolvulus reminds me of commercialisation, of commodification, of. let’s name it, capitalism – all the c words. Entering the Warehouse or Mitre 10, or simply walking through the shopping centre, the banal Christmas jingles assault the ear, while the eye is bemused by the multiplicity of invitations to buy some junk. I had to compose a quick poster for the carol service at the Working Men’s Club so googled Christmas images. There were pages of bad design of the worst kind.

Yet Christmas is a complex cultural ritual: the birth of the prophet Christ as a man-god, the charitable work of fourth century Saint Nicholas, the tribal god Woden with his horse, the change of the earth’s orbit. This rich pot pourri has been historically vandalised by magazines, department stores and Coca Cola to see the concept of ‘gift’ reduced to the mass production and consumption of baubles and beads which together with the Boxing Day sales, ‘adds to the GDP’. It is a banal culture we live in and one which deserves to be washed away.

Still, there are a few signs of hope: the range of protestors in Katowice as the emperors fiddle (a new term- macho-fascist); the economist who has calculated the value of breast milk to the GDP, Marilyn Waring reinstating the value of unpaid work to the economy…

Today is a heavy, cloudy day, the wind chime faintly stirs and soon it will rain. The convolvulus will continue to grow. The dog quietly snuffles under my desk. For the moment, all is quiet.

Take care.

Back to the Sixties

In the world of the market, Christmas arrives as theatre of the absurd; for the story of God becoming human, of challenging the system, honouring the poor, driving the money changers out of the temple, being betrayed by a member of his band of guerrillas and crucified by the colonial rulers in league with the local power brokers, takes place within a tsunami of consumerism.

A homeless man appeared in Greymouth on Christmas Eve. We’re not used to this phenomenon. He sat crouched against the Warehouse wall, his bag of clothes beside him, a sign requesting a couple of hours work leaning against his knees. Maybe from the UK? His physical appearance suggested drugs and his youth was worn out.

The Boxing Day sales came and went and for the first time, we took the grandchildren to Tui Farm Folk festival. It was a lovely occasion, two hundred people camped on Carol and Steve’s farm near Tapawera. For four days the kids and adults played, the masks slowly dissolved, the banjos strummed and the violins meditated in an Appalachian sort of way. The kids became a village and no one wore a high viz jacket (how I am coming to hate high viz jackets), or worried about health and safety. One shower served 200 people. I am sure it met none of the statutory requirements for such events, but a winding gravel road kept the bureaucrats away. It would have been good for the homeless man to have been there.

Of course, the folk music movement has its complexities, especially in a colonial culture – who are the folk?- but a South Island rural group singing Poi E dissolved contradiction.  New Year’s Eve almost had its meaning restored. If this sort of event can still take place and not be taken over by entrepreneurs and event managers, there is hope for the future. The vehicles remained static, and the rhythm of the strolling adult or skipping child took over, as in a Pacific village. The bush poetry session on New Years Day was often touching. A German read a lovely piece comparing life in Berlin with life at Tui. Her hands shook with nervousness as she expressed this vital thought in a second language. It would have been good for the homeless man to have been there.

I remembered the impulse behind the sixties: we need to sabotage capitalist culture, overthrow it, bury it, for it does too much damage. It is no good negotiating levels of compliance. Let’s really do it.

And avoid the tragedy of the sixties, of letting the impulse degenerate into another consumer item.

I arrived home to find a letter from the PM replying to a submission I had made to her as Minister of the Arts regarding a more equitable deal for the regions. She’d obviously read the submission, considered it, and will take the viewpoint into discussions with Creative NZ. After years of brief formulaic dismissal of attempted discussion, this was rather amazing.

All the best for the new year.


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