Saturday, March 31, 2012

Brits--- get your buts over to NZ now---Why? (part 1)



Heheheh I said I wouln't stick pictures on--this goes with the 'Mysterious bowls blog--- check it out!


Don’t worry, I am not going to shove a whole lot of pictures of gorgeous scenes on here--- You already know that NZ is beautiful and has heaps of wide open spaces. Add the fantastically friendly locals and you complete the picture.
I think that you should ponder upon what it is like in Britain and look out your window, or down the street and lastly, check out the news and you will find reason enough to book a flight with the maximum allowable time and get your butts here now.
It’s not so hard for you to get the necessary travel documents (unless you have been naughty boys and girls--- then take it from me--- stay at home----it’s a long to come to have your sorry arses stuck back on the plane eh---mate!). OH another thing--- don’t go bringing any of that shit that will get you offside with customs--- that means unwanted food items and the old drugs crap. Just watch ‘Border Control’--- the Aussie/ NZ version and you will notice that we don’t employ ‘grass-skirt technology to apprehend the bad stuff.
 I’d be a lair if I said you couldn’t get that stuff here anyway. I won’t paint you a picture of some innocent little pacific country that does not have an issue itself with the above mentioned low-life territory. Come with a good heart and enjoy yourself. If you want to get a bit lit--- take it from many of your own compatriots--- our wine is excellent and out beer fantastic, if you know where to get the best examples.
What’s ya gonna do when you come to us?  MMM is that a song---- Hehehhe. Well,----- get outside of the big (by NZ standards) cities--- OK, there is only one of reasonable size and that’s Auckland with its 1.5 million plus and growing (heaps of Poms coming every year------ to stay). Oops, Poms--- that’s you lot eh.
Yes you could have fun in the big smoke--- it has many incredible things to see and do and if you are a young’un--- well there is the night club/bar scene and if you really wanna behave like those twats on TV in Britannia who drink their tits off and then get arrested and have no money left for the rest of their week, then go ahead, but be careful. I’d be a lair if I said we don’t have that here too, but you really do take the cake.
For the more sophisticated amongst you, and I know there are rather a lot of them, well there are many restaurants, swerving a full range of ethnic food and they range form the cheap to the bloody over –the-top. Mind you, don’t you pay about 100 quid for a decent steak meal for four and that’s without the wine. A tip---use the BYO option and don’t expect to pay heaps for the corkage fee. Always ask upfront about that, perhaps when you book. If you want to know the better options, ask a Kiwi or get in touch with me. See my other blogs for café options in Auckland.
Auckland is blessed with two lovely harbours and the city itself strides the isthmus separating the two. There are dozens of clean beaches with less than an hour’s drive of the central city. If you jump on a Ferry, then you can add some island hideaways, with beaches that are deserted for much of the year, even in the height of summer. While you are having a few beers or wine, get friendly with a local. You never know--- they may own a boat. After all, Auckland is not called ‘city of sails’ for nothing.
I have been talking About Auckland and I have barely scratched -the surface. What about the rest of NZ? You will have to wait for the next instalment. Catch ya later mate!  Damn--- <Looks like I have another series on my hands.
PS--- if you think I have been a bit cheeky about POMs--- well I am well-qualified--- I was once one, about five generations ago, with some Scottish chucked in there.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Daylight saving--'Fall back and spring forward.'

I am glad daylight saving is ending tonight. I have been finding it increasingly difficult dragging myself out of bed at 5.20 in the morning. That extra hour will make all the difference---for a while. I am usually pretty good at getting up early. Hell—for a while there I was walking Perdy at some crazy hour each morning--- that lasted about three weeks, so maybe now I can do it again for a while. I know it benefits both of us.
There is of course a ‘down-side.’ It gets darker quicker and by the time the middle of winter arrives, some grey days mean that it’s dark at 5. It is even more dramatic in the far south--- but of course they get those wonderful long nights in the summer--- swings and round abouts.
I remember all the kafuffle when daylight savings was first mooted in the sixties. Do you remember that song by Sandy Edmonds—? ‘Hey Daylight savings time---’ unfortunately it didn’t work--- we didn’t get it. The arguments put forward were ridiculous--- ‘the cows wouldn’t adjust and plants wouldn’t grow---give me a break--- there are some dumb asses out there eh.
I do of course have sympathy for the mums trying to put their kids down (Oooo--- that sounds bad) for the night in the middle of summer, but overall I think most of us love the long evenings. What a contrast that must represent for those who never see their homes in the daylight, in the middle of winter (during the working week- that is).
I guess daylight savings is here to stay, but like all things seasonal, we have to make the best of it. Make the change a reason for a nice meal or a celebration. We need excuses for that.
Cheers!

Phill Goff Dropped in today---Onehunga Foreshore--part 4

Phill Goff was in my area today and he popped in to see me. We go back a long way (school ect), so it was great to see him. I must say he looked bloody relaxed--- I am sorry he didn't win, becuase he would have made a great PM but that's OK--- He is going to be rthe best local MP along with his obvious atributes in his 'shadow area' in Foreign Affairs. I think I need to say that he is no snake in the grass like his Australian counterpart.

Naturaly, I had to bring up the Onehunga Foreshore issue. Wow--- he was onto it---well informed and making enquiries. He was a step ahead of me for each of my concerns. he knew about the discharges and who to talk to. He is meeting with a reporter (Rhiannon Horrell) next Moday on the foreshore on the other side of the motorway. If anyone can get some traction and keep the wider picture re the environment in focus, it is Phill.
  Good on ya mate!

Poor Perdy

Perdy is feeling bad today. Actualy she has been doing this weird hacking coughing for the last day or so. She seemed to have heaps of energy and was eating well, so I decided to wait ofr a while. She has something similar last year and I took her the emergency vet. They didn't give a clear diagnosis and sent us away, but on the proviso that she didn't have any contact with other dogs. It could have been a mild Kennel Cough.
Well this time she is throwing up a frothy white fluid and then settling again. She has all the right injections so if it is KC it should be mild.
No--- I'm not waiting. She means so much to us and we hate to see her sad. It's off ot the vet at Animates at 3.30. I know some of you folow the blogs about Perdy, so don't worry (lke I am!) I owuld put her before my own comfort anytime.  For those of you who know me well, you know that to be a fact. Why am I doing this blog--- because its only abut 2 PM and I'm filling in time. I dopn't wnat to take her there yet---- I will reallly will portray and over anxious, over-the-top pet owner---- or should I say----Parent.  I shall let you know the verdict later.

UPDATE
I took Perdy to the vets at Animates in Mt Eden Rd. Perdy threw-up just as she got out of the car. I took her in and she would not cough. Luckilly the receptionsist had heard her on the phone when I rang. The lovely vet (actuallly all the staff there are reallly understanding--- I think they are as affected by the animals' distress as much as we are) examined Perdy  and found the usual fleas. We are going to experiment with a pill that allows Perdy to carry on swimming. Apparently constant swimming halves the effectiveness of the stuff you stick on the neck---so maybe she will have better treatment now.
Remember I said that Perdy threw-up by the car---- I mentioned that--- so what does she do--- the vet I mean? She accompanys me back to the car, gets down on her knees and starts poking around in the vomit. That's gotta be the definition for Vet of the month award! Not only does she reallly get stuck in--- she takes what could be a long worm to examine under the mocroscope. The verdict?---- it looked like vegetative matter, with little back- sloping hooks, that could easily cause discomfort to the throat. However  Perdy then started to cough again and the diagnosis is heasding back towards Kennel Cough.
We are treating her with some antibiotics and anti-inflmatory stuff. It will take a while for the cough to go away, but with the pill for the fleas,she will be able to swim again in a few days. I won't take her to see her mates down at the Onehunga Lagoon for a day or too, but she will get her leashed walks.
All up---- didn't cost that much and my little Perdy is insured anyway.
I am really happy with the way this company has handled Perdy and my otherr Pets. THEY CARE!  GO ANIMATES. I hope my lovely vet isnt embarrassed by my description, cause I think she is going to read this. She Rocks.

(9pm Sat NZ Time)   Perdy had her medication, but still throwing up. Poor little thing even goes outside when she starts that horrible coughing, then comes back in and tucks herself up with Rio. She keeps looking at me with those beautiful sad eyes, imploring me to make it all go away. We will give her the medication in the morning.

(7.30 Sunday morning )  Perdy got up many times in the night. I could hear her start coughing and then running out through the cat door-- Poor wee thing. We gave her her Medicarion this morning and she wanted to eat too. Her tail wags despite her discomfort. I don't think I will take her far and people look at me if as if I am an abuser when she coughs in public. Oh--- she's barking at the cat too, so maybe she's feeling a little better. I may take her out later, after I have cleaned all the yucky stuff off the car properly.
PS-- I DID NOT USE WORD TO DO THIS SO THERE ARE BOUND TO BE ERRORS--LOL We all know what my typing is like.


UPDATE-- WED 4TH APRIL--- SHE IS HARDLY COUGHING NOW AND IS BACK TO HER CRAZY SELF--- ME TOO!

Onehunga Foreshore (part 3) The Mysterious bowls (UPDATE)

Update at the bottom of blog!

OK--- I have calmed down a little. I read an article in the Central Leader, written by one of their promising reporters, Rhiannon Horrell. She wrote about how the Foreshore project is about to go ahead, after of course the obligatory 15 days to allow for anyone putting in submissions to object.
As far as I am concerned--- go ahead, but only after we are assured of quality water and thereby staying true to the Council’s 30 year plan around a healthy environment. Now, I shall tell you a ‘nice’ non-controversial story.
On the Friday night, before the ‘cancelled’ Onehunga Festival at the lagoon, something unusual occurred. Firstly I better give you some background. Many people walk their dogs, often forming groups, possibly because the time they come is convenient for their particular lifestyles. One group seems to walk the park around 3.30 each afternoon. It consists mostly of ladies approaching retirement or well into this ‘golden’ time. There are others, slightly or much younger who attach themselves because they know that their dogs are going to be well stimulated by the crazy antics of the younger dogs and more controlled model behaviours of the dogs who match their ‘parents’ in behaviour--- that is, they are wise.
This group is quite well known and many people visiting the park comment on this regular activity. The dogs draw attention, especially when they are in a more frolicking mood. Children point and adults smile--- possibly wondering if they too should get a dog for their kids.
Around the park there are two areas where the dogs are able to drink. On summer days this is particularly important, as some of the dogs tend to drink the salty and probably POLLUTED water from the lagoon. The ladies make sure that the hose that fills the green bowl is always maintained have even been known to fix it themselves when it is damaged. At the other end of the lagoon, by the car park there is another tap, which from time to time has been vandalized. There is usually a plastic bowl there too. The ladies make sure that it is always there. Ice cream containers are just fine. There is little point in leaving more expensive examples, because they regularly disappear or are broken--- I don’t know if it is kids using it to make sand castles or someone who hates dogs. I would not want kids to play in the sand given the less than pristine nature of the surrounds.
It is quite frustrating to walk our dogs and then have to go and find a new bowl when they keep disappearing. One of the nice ladies seems to have a supply of them in her car, and she brings her own bowl out each time, with water from home.
On the Friday night, before the festival, two expensive stainless steel bowls appeared by the car park, where the ladies (and friends) usually sit after their sojourn around the lagoon with their dogs. It is a pleasant time, when they (WE) chat before heading off home with our more relaxed (well not my Jack Russell) dogs. We were amazed--- did the Council leave these TWO bowls for the dogs? Was it some kind person who has watched us from the cars as we play with the dogs, throwing balls for them to fetch. It is quite a sight. Was it someone who had taken the other ones and somehow felt guilty?
I don’t know why, but the two bowls are still there, but now placed near the tap. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the bowls actually stay? It has been a week and I expect that I will be updating you soon that they have gone. Please let me be wrong. It has left a warm fuzzy feeling amongst the dog walkers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for this act to be replicated in a wider sense? Let the water be clean and everyone continue to use this great space. If the bowls are still there this afternoon, I will take a picture.
They've gone--- the bowls lasted about 3 weeks. I am both surprised that they lasted that long and really pissed off at the low-life that would steal them--- probabaly selling them on Trade Me--- Maybe they eat out of them!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Onehunga Shi---shore-- Why don't I just say it? (part 2)

          The tide coming in.                                          We can do without this in the bay!

The Guava bush.                                                 We would love our dogs to be safe too!


It has been a day since I started to write about the Onehunga Foreshore and in that time my anger has been bubbling away, building to the point where I feel I must continue and get people onside to confront the arrogant Council, who think they know best. I recall the crazy days in the late 60’s and 70’s, when I joined many marches against NZ’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I thought I had mellowed since then, but remember, I said that people should find a cause bigger than the stupid row over the ‘Pack and Save adverts’ (see my previous blogs), well here it is.
It is local and it is an example of how we are bullied and ignored by the ‘grey man in suits’ (I guess there’s a few women in there too), residing in the ugly high-rise building next to the Town Hall in Queen Street. I bet they had no trouble finding the millions they needed to refurbish that lovely old building.
I was angry enough to almost put a title saying the ‘Onehunga shitshore.’ But I stopped short. Forgive me, the more genteel amongst you, but I hope you become involved in this struggle to achieve a result that matches the Supercity’s stated aims in the 30 year plan around health and environmental issues.
What a crock of shi---oops I almost said it again.  I said in my last blog on this issue that—OK—at least plan for a solution to alleviate the problem of polluted storm water and  outflows containing faecal matter.
I walk my dog at the Lagoon and we have been worried for ages about the state of the water and sludge that appears at low tide. There is also the poor drainage generally that besets this potentially wonderful space for people and dogs. Take last week for example. The Onehunga Festival was supposed to be held on one side of the lagoon. Many community groups would have been disappointed because the Council had to cancel this yearly event on the Saturday morning because of the state of the field. They tried their best to make it usable, but it all comes down to the original set up of the lagoon and its surrounds. The drainage was never good enough to cope with more than a moderate downfall.
I have to be careful here, but it is said that a private establishment has illegally built an outflow into the harbour on the other side of the motorway. Is this the reason that the Council announced yesterday that one of the beaches will have to be layered with shells and pebbles? Is this action supposed to keep the beach safe, while the crap continues to flow?
WHAT CAN WE DO---COLLECTIVELY? Send this blog on--- talk to your Members of Parliament---talk to your local Community Board Members.
The bottom line----- the Council is going to spend $28 on the Foreshore (and Lagoon?). Great---- but get it right so that we don’t have to worry about ‘outflows,’ faecal matter or any other undesirable organisms. We do not want the users of this wonderful area being struck down by nasties like Campylobacter (one of our friends probably got that from the water taps at the Lagoon). Let’s have a foreshore and lagoon that not just Onehunga residents, but the whole of Auckland can be proud to play, swim and exercise in.
PS. Look at that picture with the red berries. We stumbled across it today, right on the edge of the wall at the northern end of the lagoon. They were Guavas; only about a dozen, but they were fat, juicy and yummy---hopefully not contaminated with anything. Isn’t it amazing that this little shrub can survive in such an environment? We even pick mushrooms there!

Neilcolemanauthor.blogspot.com  

Onehunga Foreshore and Lagoon---second best again?

Over the last two years there has been a discussion about the development of the Onehunga foreshore. The aim is to bring back the days whereby the Onehunga Beach is once again a focus for local residents to enjoy the harbour. There was a time when families picnicked and cavorted on the shoreline. It wasn’t until the motorway was constructed in the 1970’s that the area compromised, although the pollution from the nearby sewerage plant had curtailed swimming and fishing activities for many decades, as Auckland spread-eagled beyond its early boundaries. One would have to look back to the 19th century to truly see how important the area was, both for shipping and leisure pursuits.
Over the years the Waitemata harbour became the darling of Aucklanders. For those of you reading this blog beyond NZ, take a look at the map and you will see that Auckland sits on an isthmus between harbours, both blessed with their own character. However, it is the Waitemata that has been the focus of development for the last hundred years, leaving Onehunga and its foreshore lagging behind, left to a few stalwarts to fight a rear-guard action to maintain some sort of respectability for the area.  
Finally, it has been decided to spend $28 million dollars to revamp, redesign and reclaim three new beaches on the seaward side of the Onehunga Lagoon. It has even been rumoured that the lagoon would benefit from being dredged and re-sanded to make it a safe swimming beach. Rumour is probably the best we shall achieve for the lagoon and already there are some doubts about the reality of three safe, clean new beaches. Perhaps those of us living near the Onehunga foreshore have become used to the fact that it will always play second fiddle to our more wealthy and influential Eastern residents.
Pollution, sewerage and storm water contamination, emanating from several outlets (some allegedly illegal), endangers any claim that both areas will be suitable for humans swimming, never lone dogs frolicking in the water. Several claims have been made that human faecal matter has been found, both in the lagoon and near one of the proposed new beaches. What is the Council planning? It was reported in the New Zealand herald on Thursday the 30th March, 2012, that gravel and shells will be placed on the said beach to discourage swimming.
What is the point of spending so much money, then to turn around and say that the plan is already compromised? Does the Council really believe that such a move will stop people swimming? Would it not be better to find the source of the leaks, punish those who have contributed to the pollution and fix what I can only assume are old and damaged systems?
I suppose the question of financing such works will be the hard question. Well--- at least let us see a plan  to fix the problem and include the lagoon, so that once gain we can eventually look forward to what is after all, something that was been taken from us in the first place. It is time that we are treated equally in the West.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Indonesia-- try it! (part 1)

Indonesia--- not just Bali, although you can’t ignore that beautiful place. The vast archipelago stretches thousands of kilometres from East to West with more than 20,000 islands. It is a land of many cultures and many religions. It may be described as the world’s largest Islamic nation, but it actually has more Christians than Australia and New Zealand, combined. Indonesia is an awakening giant, economically. Over the next few years this diverse country is going to make its presence felt. We in New Zealand need to discover this reality, just like Australia has, but for very different reason.
Indonesia is Australia’s nearest large nation, a fact that they are struggling to come to terms with. There are serious stumbling blocks, like ‘people smuggling’ that need to be addressed as well as a huge market. This is where NZ needs to make plans for a possible bonanza in our bilateral trade relationship. Hopefully this is a two way process.

For many years we have been travelling to Bali, apart from when the focus was on the terrible bombings that killed and maimed so many, most of them local people. Recently the Indonesian Government appears to have gained the upper hand in the struggle against internal and foreign inspired terrorist attacks. Jakarta, the crazy, colourful and increasingly tourist focused capital is home to many expats, living and working in the sprawling city. In the space of a decade, there has been massive change and improvement in infrastructure. Big business is alive and well.

Look beyond Jakarta and Bali and the choice is mindboggling. Thousands of beautiful islands are crying out for tourists. Yes, the services, away from the main resorts may be basic, but read---- cheap. Your dollar will go a long way. Even in the main tourist resorts, you won’t break the bank. Plan your trip well, make sure you have good medical insurance and maybe employ the services of a guide (very reasonably priced) and driver and you will be fine.

Indonesians want tourists. As this huge country grows, expect to see the choices available blossom, along with the economy. The smiles will be genuine and if you want to communicate, it is not hard to find an English speaking local, keen to try out their language skills.                          

PC--- yeah right on--go for it Pack and Save!

There have been many instances of PC gone mad in NZ and elsewhere of late, but the example I am going to send up now takes the prize.
Did any of you see the advert for 'Meat Lovers Week,’ put out for Pack and Save supermarkets?  If you live outside NZ, just Google it or stick it in Utube. I am sure you can play around with the words and it’s sure to come up.
I believe in fair play and I am a pretty tolerant sort of guy. Hell, I need to be in my job. However, every so often I get my dander up when various groups respond to an add on TV that is having fun. Yes, it is about selling things, but why not have a laugh while you are doing it?
Picture this: It is in cartoon format. A line of meat is flowing before the camera; all the cuts and different products, because the adverts are about meat. Yes I’m a meat eater and anything else that takes my fancy---- even tofu! A sausage- like apparition joins the line-up. The ‘voice over’ asks vegetarians to look away.  You can imagine the rest.
Wouldn’t you know it? There was an outcry from a small, tiny, minuscule set of tragic vegetarians. Now I don’t say that lightly, because many of my colleagues are veggies and even they thought the advert was funny. Come-on folks---- chill out! So your feelings were hurt------ Give me a break. Why don’t you start to worry about other issues that really matter?
For example--- take those creeps who hurt animals. All the research says that they are likely to hurt their children or their partners. There’s even evidence that suggest there is a link between men who seek a substitute for punishing/abusing their partners by torturing animals. Maybe the efforts of groups fighting family violence is beginning to work--- unfortunately for the pets, they become the innocent victims. Now you lot--- get your teeth into that or some other issue that counts.
The powers that be responded to the call to take the adverts off (they did for a while) and meaty hell broke loose in the talkbacks and general media. Common sense returned and the advert returned with another little twist in its tail. Go find out.
Laugh, love and be happy.

The Courier came at 6--I wish!

There is a business opportunity out there that is begging for someone to pick it up. Here’s why.
Now we all know and hate it when just as we are sitting down to dinner, the phone rings and you have to endure some twat impinging on your good nature. It will either be a survey (often just an excuse to soften you up for a more aggressive sales pitch) or a salesperson trying to sell you something. Yes most are probably legitimate, but many of us have experienced the ‘scam’ calls from many parts of the world. The computer scam example springs to mind,
These visits and calls can come in multiples and by the time we get pisses off enough to really show our feelings, our solitude has been totally compromised. Now, to my main reason for this blog.
Have you ever purchased something on line and arranged and paid for the courier to deliver it? Silly you, silly me! I am well over this way of conducting my online purchases for the following reason. Almost inevitably, the courier comes the next day and guess what? ---- You are not there. You actually have a job and don’t employ a maid to keep your house pristine and your meals prepared. What happens next?
You go online to arrange delivery at your work, but that is not always well received by many of your employers--- right? Perhaps you just accept that the best way is to go and pick up the item at the ‘depot, which is often across town and you then have to battle peak hour traffic. The alternative is to wait until Saturday morning and then you must prove who you are with photo ID and pick it up yourself. If you have paid to do all of this, then you must be left with the question----‘Why the bloody hell am I putting myself through this--? ---- and I am paying for the privilege!’
Maybe I am missing something here and one of you will get off your chuff and tell me so. Good--- I may finally get some feedback and it will be very welcome. I believe that there is a business opportunity here--- waiting for some keen entrepreneur (not me) to fill a gap.
Why doesn’t an existing firm or a clever new one operate their deliveries at a more sensible time, so that ‘buyers’ who are anxiously waiting for their purchases can actually get it in , ‘what I call’ (Sorry Miranda) a reasonable time. Take the fact that we are mostly at home, or someone is, at six in the evening, and can thereby take delivery of the said item. I am sure that the courier driver who delivers such purchases will receive a much better welcome than the other callers. Indeed they should feel free to push the others aside and be the recipient of our utmost gratitude.
One could also opt for such a service so that –yes--- the company can continue to operate during the day, but with much less wastage of fuel and therefore save our planet at the same time.
Make sense? --- I hope so.  Bring it on!

COME ON FOLKS!---- HELP ME MAKE THIS ONE GO GLOBAL. i REALLLLLLLLY DO GET PISSSED OFF WITH THE SITUATION AS I DESCRIBED IT.

I had an afterthought (an increasing trend lately). The reason I attempt online shopping is because I make an assumption that it is more convenient and less time consuming. I also assume that when they say that an item will be supplied overnight, then that is great too. Silly me. It is now Thuesday morning and the 'item' may be delivered to a Post Shop' near me by Friday afternoon. Damn--- I could have walked down to Dick Smith in Onuhunga and saved the planet and had my new Kindle the same day.
I felt like cr--- today---- heheheheh (maniacal laugh!) I picked somemushrooms yesterday and had them in an omlette---- oops--- shouldn't have done that--I'm sure one was different. you can gues the rest!
I snet Rio down to Post Shop---- and yet the damn Kindle was finaly there. Hey I only orfered it on Monday and here it is friday and me at home from work--- with mushroom aided consequentional results---- no I'm not high--- just feeling abit shi-----y.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Performance pay for teachers--- yet another sideshow?

Performance pay---- Here we go again!

Here we go again. Every so often the Government (usually a National Party one) trots out the old ‘performance pay option.’  As with all ‘announcements of late, the real reason for any philosophical discussion emanating from the above source, is almost certainly driven by Treasury or National Party desire to cut spending. We are seeing it in many places at the moment. Hell--- they have just cut seven military bands to save a measly two million dollars.
We have seen health cuts, defence cuts, police reorganization (using civilians to save money) and attempted cuts to our Diplomatic Service--- the list goes on. What is interesting is the ‘stick your big toe in the water,’ strategy and if it gets burnt pull it out until the water is lukewarm. I don’t know how far they are in their planning for the latest ‘Educational Sector’ proposals.
Let’s take a closer look at the idea of performance pay. If it looks like a minefield then it probably is.  I would hate to be a principal, trying to decide who to award this extra money or who to punish by not awarding it. There are so many hooks, not just within schools, but between schools.
One would think that finding a yardstick to measure teacher performance will be a trial in itself. Who is going to say that this teacher deserves an extra incentive and on what basis it is awarded? Do we look at Asttle scores at the beginning of a school year and then give those teachers in English a reward for moving the students up a level or two? Do we take raw scores in other subjects and apply some sort of measuring device or do we reward the teacher who has gained the most NCEA credits in their classes? Too bad if you work in a school which is heavily ‘banded’ and you are the unfortunate teacher at the bottom end.
 I am trying not to be cynical here. There are many reasons why students don’t achieve just as there are for those who show an improvement throughout the year. Yes, much of that success can be achieved through good teaching, but that is not the whole picture.
Schools can and do make a difference in students’ lives. The home is also a critical factor. Socio-economic factors play a huge role in how much a student will achieve. If there is a strong Cultural Capital influence in a family, then students have a head start. If the role models for success are present in a family, then it is easy to make the link between success and not failing.
Our Government leaders will talk about examples of students who have achieved at high levels, despite their backgrounds or school. No doubt Paula Bennet will use her own example, but she is on shaky ground given that the very tool that helped her has been stripped away in previous cuts.
The debate about what makes an effective teacher has some commonality. Factors like personality, teacher training, good support structures, and on-going professional development are just a few. Put the same teacher in different schools and there can be a difference in outcomes.
Our teacher unions have possibly not done enough to inform rational debate about performance pay. They are too busy trying to retain the conditions they have fought for over the last several decades. Calls for performance pay are a smokescreen. I suspect that the Government/Treasury is employing the same tactics that they have used to sneak in cuts that they were going to make anyway. We need to be careful that other changes to our conditions aren’t slipped through while our eyes are turned elsewhere. Sounds a bit like the eye in the tower in ‘Lord of the Rings’ doesn’t it? While we are fighting this issue, perhaps they will quietly bring back real ‘bulk funding.’
Finally--- is there a similarity between the struggle that Ports of Auckland workers are going through and the debate about performance pay? I shall let you think about that.



The bach---it's gone! (Coastal Yarn's begining)

I feel really strange; a combination of sadness, nostalgia and a sense of gratitude. The bach has gone. After being in my cousin’s family for more than 40 years, it has finally been sold. I may get a chance to see it and stay once more before the actual handover, but that depends on availability. I won’t be the only one wanting to say goodbye.
The bach has been an inspiration for me. The bach is where Coastal yarns began, my first published book. I remember sitting there one cold morning while my sister made breakfast and looked out the window to Kapiti Island. It loomed mysteriously in the distance, beckoning me in a way I cannot describe.
I was aware of some of its history and later found out a connection between the island and my cousin.  At the time of that visit, I was working on another book and had stayed at then bach as it was a convenient and cheap place to stay so that I could commute to Wellington to see my editor for another book---a work still in progress. Whilst the breakfast was being prepared, I began writing. I had no title and no real idea. It flowed. I put myself in the position of a man staying at the bach. He owned it with his wife and had been visiting the bach for many years and gradually his wife stopped accompanying him.  You can read the rest and the other stories by contacting me direct. (neilcolemanauthor@gamil.com)
I only wrote about three pages that morning and later in the day I visited my editor. I mentioned that I had started to write a short story and she asked to see it. She was silent while I sipped form very long white rum, lime and soda, watching the planes land at the Wellington Airport. We were in here sun room high up in the hills near the airport.
She was impressed and encouraged me to continue. A few days later I had completed the first story, ‘Connected,’ and had come up with the idea of a compilation of short stories, based around the NZ Coastline. Thus, ‘Coastal Yarns was born. I will be re-launching it with a few additions and I will publish it myself this time. That’s another story.
It feels like I am avoiding talking more about the bach. There is a sense of pain, knowing that I won’t be able to spend time there again. I understand the circumstances for its sale, but that doesn’t make it easier. I am not sure if my wonderfully generous cousin (she never charged me anything like what she could have charged) will ever read this blog, but if she does, I would want to convey my sincere thanks for the opportunity she gave me--- staying there; sometimes alone and at others with my sister.
The bach was and always will be an inspiration to me. It is part of my psyche. It is my special place. I would not change much if it was mine. It is just so perfect as it is. It represents part of Kiwiana, unchanging and timeless. It is the way we imagine NZ the way it used to be. It makes you forget the busy highway leading into Wellington just over the rise. The magnificent hills to the East, frame the tiny settlement that has long been an escape on the Kapiti Coast for Wellingtonians and increasingly for other parts of NZ.
I hope its residents resist the urge to carve up the sections that many baches occupy--- but the inevitable march of ‘progress’ began years ago. The beach houses that resemble mansions are slowly taking over.
For me, the bach will always be there. Even if they take it away, or mote likely bring it to the ground--- it will still be there in my mind---- forever.

Thanks for Miranda, Mother England!

FIRST IT WAS Little Britain, and I am forever grateful for that. (We have all the DVD’s). Then it was Katherine Tate (I ain’t bovered!). OK, there are so many great Brit comedies and it’s hard to say which would be my favourite. I never get sick of seeing reruns. If I need a laugh, I hit the UK TV channel, and inevitably there will one of my crazy British shows on.
Lately, I am again drafted to yet new heights of enjoyment. There is a new ‘girl on the block.’ Who could possibly come even near to the afore mentioned ‘treasures?’ Well there is someone----MIRNADA!
She’s nuts, she’s funny, she’s---- well she’s like someone who represents a bit of us all. Miranda lets us look at ourselves. She exemplifies our fears, our dreams and says what we all think. If that means being non-PC, then she’s a star. I love the way she lets us in to her inner thoughts--- draws us in with those naughty eyes and makes us feel that yes--- It’s fine to be scared, shy and enjoy the little things, even the stupid aspects of our lives. She normalizes being a little mad, sad and then to take something that is way out of our comfort zone and make it alright.
She makes us feel OK about ourselves, be it physical, emotional or any other ‘al.’ She makes fun of the relationships within families, but expresses it in a way that tells us that--- many of us share the experiences she portrays in her shows; she makes it all OK---- just laugh, cry or scream.
Miranda takes the everyday and turns it into a drama; a drama that could easily replicate the events and relationships in our lives. The way she ‘talks’ to the camera is oh so Shakespearean. Her style would not be strange to an audience in the Globe Theatre, all those many years ago, albeit with a more archaic language. Perhaps her subject matter would also ring true.
I know that Miranda will never read this, but my overwhelming wish would be for her to come to New Zealand and share her wonderful wit with us.
What a dream---- I would be in the front row, taking in those mischievous eyes and laughing till I hurt. It’s been a while since that happened---- live.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sleep Apnoea--- do something about it!

Sleep Apnoea.
I have blogged many other topics so I thought I would have a go at this one. I was talking to a friend this morning and the subject came up. How better than me---- after all--- I suffer from it.
What was it like before treatment? I remember driving and nearly falling asleep, even on the relatively short journey home from work (and I hate to say it--- to work, some mornings!). I recall having trouble with what I assumed to be ulcers in my mouth and sometimes waking up with a very sore tongue, sometimes with blood on the pillow.
I remember---well not remembering things. I was forgetful, lacking energy, often grumpy (no, it doesn’t have to go with aging) and just wondering what the hell was wrong. To top it off, I would often wake in the night, struggling for breath.
On a visit to my doctor, I just spat it out----‘Doc---- I think I have sleep Apnoea--- I saw something about it on TV.’
He acted quickly and sent me to a private clinic. That occurred, a few days later. After seeing a doctor there and answering a few questions and a survey, they sent me home with little kit that attached to one of my fingers. I had to fill in a sheet or tick box, every time I got up; or woke. The next day I took the machine. It’s quite small and it isn’t invasive or uncomfortable and given that my sleep was crap anyway--- well, what the hell?
The verdict---? I had pretty bad sleep apnoea. That meant I stopped breathing over 400 times a night. The body does its best to ‘right this’ by sending a message to the brain to start breathing, hence all of the thrashing around and struggling. The alternative is not to wake up and die.  Not good eh? To make matters worse, my oxygen levels were pitiful. Now, I’m not a doctor, even I know that these levels should be up in the high 90% range, not the high 50% levels I was exhibiting.
I was given (paid for actually--- about $2000 all up with the testing etc.) a new CPAC machine to take home and after a bit of coaching in its use, away we went, ready to face a new future.  I call it my Crap machine, in honour of my crappy sleeping habits until then. I expected to take a few weeks to get used to the machine--- It was love at first sight on the first night.
I pretended I was under water diving and just relaxed into the cycles. For the first time in years I didn’t get up (to go to the toilet) more than a few times--- better than the previous up to eight times a night.
Things changed. I was more energetic, I didn’t forget as many things and I even started writing. Yes--- you can blame my CPAC machine. If I was a noisy talkative bugger before, then now I just don’t shut up. I have to do this or the whole world suffers. It’s much easier to get off my blog site than it is to shut me up in person.
Nearly three books later and well over a 100 blogs and 3000 hits--- I just keep on going.

There is a postscript here too. I was paying through the nose for my medical intervention and the back-up for me was in Christchurch. I mentioned to my doctor one day that I was getting a bit sick of paying out for all of this and that with retirement approaching, was there a way of getting into the system that I had been paying taxes for many years. There was and a month or so later, I walked out of the ‘State funded clinic’ in Greenlane with a brand new machine. Naturally I gave them the 18 month old one. Hey I don’t double dip.
 Now I take every opportunity to sing the praises of our New Zealand designed and made Fisher and Paykel CPAC machine. I am a new man and with the addition of a Jack Russell into my life--- well the picture is indeed a rosy one.

PS (2) I was told that I may be able to lose weight more with the CPAC machine and my increased energy levels. Please Mr Fischer and Paykel research people--- Can you make a suction option on the machine so that I can have immediate lipo-suction? That's not unreasonable eh?

HEY--- IF ANYONE WANTS TO ASK ME ANYTHING ABOUT THE CPAC MACHINE--- THATS FINE--- REMEMBER ITS A FISHER AND PAYKEL ONE--I'M SURE HEY ARE AVAILABLE IN BRITAIN FOR THOSE BRITISH SNORERS!   Shush--- I'm sleeping--- not snoring and I'm writing books with all of my new energy and over 117 blogs! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dear Frederica---a short story

Dear Frederica

    `Just get up, will ya!’
    God, that voice of hers really gets to me, first thing in the morning. It’s like a cross between a chainsaw and a cat. You’d think after all these years that I’d have some smart reply, but the fact is, we’ve got used to each other, like a favourite chair or well-worn slippers.
    I pulled the pillow over my ears, another failed tactic that endless failures had not changed my feeble efforts to placate her.
    `Garry--- we have to be at Tania’s by mid-day.’
    `I know Jean. Since when have I ever caused us to be late?’
    `Now don’t you go bringing that up. I know where this is leading. I’m ready now.’
     I pushed the pillow away and tumbled out of bed. So much for a good old sleep-in. Mind you, around here, anything after seven constitutes a sleep-in. I could hear Jean making coffee in the kitchen. She was getting quite good at making a good flat-white on her new machine.
   `Make me one honey---- I’ll be showered and dressed in a jiffy. Can you chuck some porridge in the microwave too hun? I need something sticking to my ribs eh.’
    `I hope you’re not referring to Tania’s cooking again Garry. You know she does her best.
    I took her silence for a “yes.”  True to my word, I was out and dressed and in the kitchen within ten minutes.
    `Oh Garry--- you’re not wearing that are you?’ Jean was referring to my top, a black lightweight knit I’d brought from the op-shop. I knew she hated it, but hey--- who was wearing it--- me or her?
   `Can’t you get a bit of colour into your wardrobe dear? It makes you look old or like you’re going to a test match.’
    `Ah---- I am old, sweetheart.’
    `More like you don’t care, you mean.’
    Rather than prolonging the inevitable argument, I simply returned to the bedroom and came back with my favourite cardigan, a colourful relic from the past. Jean’s face said it all, but she too knew when the game was up.
    `I suppose if you really have to, it will do, but honestly dear---- why can’t you spend a bit of money and get some nice clothes?’
    ‘What for?--- When did we last go anywhere that needed flash clothes, apart from the odd funeral--- well you know my views on dressing for the dead.’
    `Garry---have your breakfast and lets get out of here. I’ll feed the children----oops----the pets. How about we stop at that herb place for a coffee on the way through to Hamilton eh?’
     `Fine by me,’ I mumbled through the hot porridge. I liked the place jean was talking about. It had special memories for me. My mum had loved to go there on the way to “wherever,” as she put it.
     Ten minutes later we had packed the food we were taking; a whole marinated chicken and prepared veggies, along with the apple crumble I had cooked the previous evening. On arrival at Tania’s in Hamilton, we would add our lot to what she had cooked. That was the sticking point. How does one find the balance between bringing too much food and possibly insulting the efforts of our hostess, and having to put up with what we had come to expect; food that was either over-cooked, under-spiced or downright horrible? Both Jean and I considered ourselves to be good cooks and we usually avoided eating anywhere that didn’t meet our standards. Naturally this stance had its consequences--- we didn’t get invited out a lot. Tania was a special case. She had no qualms about us bringing food. In fact she boasted to her friends about our efforts.
    Over the years, we had met a number of her friends. In fact the  ”gatherings” as she put them, had become quite popular. Some of them had caught on to Tania’s lack of culinary skills and approached the occasions in much the same manner we did. Tania was a fabulous hostess in other respects. She always invited a mystery guest, some of whom leaving us wondering where she dragged them up from.
   `I wonder who she’s gonna spring on us this time,’ Jean said, as the car sped past the Waikato River near Meremere.
    `It’ll take a bit to beat the last one. Damn--- that guy could spin a yarn eh. Buggered if I believed him though.’
    A few minutes later we pulled off the main drag and entered an entirely different world. The small car park only had one car, parked in the middle, making it difficult for me to wedge my little Hyundai in.
    `Selfish bastard--- where’d he learn to drive?’
    `Come-on Garry---- lets not spoil a nice day.’
    The sound of someone laughing assailed us as we entered through the old-fashioned hallway. I admired the art-work the owner had on display; some local artists used the place to show their works. The laughing appeared to be coming from a middle-aged lady, only slightly younger than Jean and I.  She was dressed as if she had stepped into a time machine, way back in the 1950’s and then transported herself back to the early twenty first century. Floral artistry--- and then the hat. Jean managed to get to me before I broke out in obvious laughter. Luckily the owner of the establishment came to my rescue.
    `Come in--- Nice to see you again. I hope things are going well for you. You’ve arrived just in time for the date scones. They’re still hot.’
    `You’re on,’ I replied, thankful for her timely offer.
    `Just go on through then--- I take it you want a flat white and tea for your lovely lady?’
    Jean almost purred as we found a seat facing the herb garden. We were followed through onto the deck by the lady. She sat at the next table, eyeing the extra seat at ours. Jean kicked me ever so lightly under the table as if to say----`go on---- invite her to join us.’ The look she used to back up her plea, did not give any room for argument. I gave in.
    `Would you like to join us?’ I said in my best manner.’
    `Oh---- so kind of you. Most people try to avoid me. Yes I will join you.’
    `I’m jean, and this is my husband, Garry.’
    `Frederica---So nice to meet you. It’s a beautiful day. I always stop in when I’m travelling to Hamilton---- breaks the journey up wonderfully and I can’t resist a nice cup of herbal tea.’
    `It’s the date scones that do it for me,’ I said, as the owner approached with a tray and the coffee, tea and dripping scones.
    `Mmmm--- don’t think the butter will do you any good,’ Frederica said condescendingly.’
    `What the----‘  I didn’t finish as yet another kick cut off my reply
    `Yes---- he will have to take an extra turn around the bay when we get back to Onehunga,’ Jean said.
    `All that butter will clog your veins and you don’t look like you need it if you ask me.’ This woman was treading on thin ice. Like I didn’t know?
    By way of rebelling, I deliberately took another swipe at the extra butter accompanying the scones and added to the already over-the-top mixture and then manoeuvred a huge mouthful of scone, butter and jam into my waiting mouth. Frederica looked the other way, clearly trying to ignore my gluttonous behaviour.
    `You know what the doctor said,’ Jean intoned. I ignored them both and completed my task and then looked at Jean’s scone to emphasise that I wasn’t finished. `Don’t you dare!’ she almost shrieked.
    Frederica’s tea arrived--- no scones for her. It was then that I noticed her make-up. One could only use the word---layered. Jean was watching my face, as she knew something I didn’t and also to pre-empt anything unsavoury from me. Too late.
    `Yes--- I suspect I need the scones and butter as much as you need a good make-up artist,’ I said, glad to be able to reply to the lady’s taunts.
    `Well I never,’ Frederica harrumphed. `I think it’s time I left. I shall go to my friend Tania, in Hamilton. At least there, I know I shall be treated with acceptance.’
    `Is everything alright?’ the owner said, approaching the table with extra water for jean.
    `It will be,’ Frederica said haughtily. ‘I’m sure I have plenty to look forward to. I’m the mystery guest at a soiree in Hamilton at my friend Tania’s place. I bid you all good bye.’
    She gathered her handbag and headed down the corridor to her car, casting one last glance towards me.
    `Strange lady,’ I offered.
    ‘You are not the most observant are you dear?’ Jean said. `That was no lady, if you know what I mean, and I think she’s headed to exactly where we are going--- Long day ahead, eh?’

Are you nuts, Queenslanders? Watch the 'gravy train.'

Are you nuts, Queenslanders?
Yes, we all saw ‘it’ coming----, but to the extent that you no longer have a viable opposition party to balance the excesses of a headstrong new government? Do not realize that you have cast yourself back into the days when a former New Zealander held the reins of power in your state and wielded a form of power that took you many elections cycles to see the light?
Do you really believe that your new leader will rule and be ‘humble?’ I guess time will tell and whether the lessons of history will in the end make you see that unbridled power is indeed something to be frightened of.
I look back over the last few years and wonder at the reasons you dumped Anna Bligh so unceremoniously. Your discomfort for many of her policies must run deep, or is there something else that has led to her massive demise?  I suspect that Julia in Canberra must have some bearing on the disastrous result. Julia will be cringing behind closed doors in Korea. The possible nuclear scenarios she has gone to discuss in Seoul must pale in significance compared to the results of any Federal election, if held now.
For Labor, I wonder what they are thinking today. They did have a clear indication via the polls over the last year or two that the worm had turned. Waking up today must be truly traumatic. The rump they are left with in the Queensland Parliament, will seek out a new leader, but it may take many election cycles to rebuild. It is a pity to see Anna go; indeed I hope that she finds a way to hang in there, albeit in the next election. Is there anyone else who would happily step into the swamp---?  To be jeered at from Government benches. Oh yes, despite the new leader’s machinations about being humble, it won’t take long for an errant MP or three to start crowing.
What is more scary in the new Parliament is the possible direction of the new Government. Big business will rule and so many of the gains so hard fought for over in the last twenty years will be ‘mist in the wind’.
‘Workers,’ who turned their backs on Labor, will see their rights slide away and then turn into a flood. By the time they rue their decision to vote for the new Premier and his party, it will be too late. It will be their children who will have to ‘re-fight the battles, to stem the flow.
Then again--- don’t we say that get who we deserve?

It didn't take long eh! I see that the gravy train has left the station In the Queensland. It will take a journey throughout Australia, wherever there has been a landslide victory agaisnt Labor. I'm not saying that Labor was exempt, but the fat cats just can't keep thier lips out of the bowl when it comes to claiming what they believe they were born to 'inherit.'
Come on my Aussie bros--- are you going to let me get away with my outrageous assertions?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My neighbourhood has gone!

Why?!  My school, my home, my friends-----all gone; some dead, others just disappeared. What have we done to deserve this? At first it was noise in the distance----then the sounds turned into explosions. We couldn’t sleep at night. My brother and I crept in to my Mum’s room. Dad had gone. Mum said that he had business in the next suburb, but she has this strange look on her face.
 The last time I had seen that look was when my uncle was taken away by these policemen dressed in black, with their faces hidden. Why did they do that? My Aunty looks so sad all the time now and my cousins cry every night. Mum and Aunty went down to the police station, but they can’t find Uncle. The police say they haven’t got him and told Mum and Aunty to go away. I saw the big guns. That was six weeks ago and now Mum has to give my cousins food.
I went to school three weeks ago, after the holidays, but it was all broken. The windows were all gone and most of the classrooms were wrecked. The students all stood around for a few hours along with three teachers. Where were the other teachers? Mum said it would be fine and that it was a mistake.
That night on TV, a lady was talking about ‘terrorists’ and about how they had turned our city into a death-zone. I asked my Mum what that meant. Her face was grey and her eyes looked like they did when grandmother died. My other older brother kept his face away from us. He wouldn’t answer our questions. That night he left the house. I am sure he took one of the big kitchen knives, because Mum couldn’t find it the next day. We haven’t seen him since.
Over the next few days the sounds got louder and louder. Soon it felt like the house shook every time we heard an explosion. Mum made us all sleep in the cellar. We took our blankets and some food and water. I felt a little bit safer there. The next night our neighbours asked to join us in the little cellar. They brought their two children and we played games until quite late.
Next morning, we climbed out of our cellar and we saw something terrible. In the street outside our broken door, there were three bodies, one of them the son of one of the neighbours. Mum quickly made us go back inside. The adults tried to hide their conversations from us, but we knew that they were very worried. Just before we jammed the broken door shut, I saw men running. They were being chased by soldiers. Every so often they stopped and shot their guns at the soldiers chasing them. As the soldiers ran past our house they threw something into the shop across the road. Hard things hit the wall of our house and we only just stumbled into the cellar, before the roof of our house started falling. Mum screamed, but we were not hurt.
The next day, Mum and the neighbour decided to go out to look for food. They didn’t come back. We are getting very hungry and thirsty. We don’t know what to do. We are getting frightened, because we are all alone in the cellar.
Before the men left, weeks ago I remember hearing them talking about the ‘President,’ and how he didn’t care about the people. I even heard that the President’s men had blown up the Mosque. Dad had said that there were people in there when it happened. He also talked to my uncle about Egypt and Libya. I don’t understand what he was talking about. Those countries are a long way from Homs. I wonder if he wants us to go to those countries now, but who will take us if our parents don’t come back?
Why do the President and his soldiers hate us? They must do, or they wouldn’t be trying to hurt us. My little sister won’t stop crying and the neighbour’s kids look sick. Where is the doctor? Maybe the President has killed him too. Why doesn’t God help us? I say my prayers, five times every day. I want to sleep—maybe I won’t wake up. I wish someone would help us.

ISHTAR---9 YEAR OLD GIRL--- HOMS

The Dessert Rose--'Don't you love my shoes?'

THE SCENE---AN UPMARKET CAFÉ IN CENTRAL DAMASCUS.
ASMA---‘Darling--- don’t you just love my shoes---- they were a steal----only $7000 and you know how I love yellow!
P--------‘Yes you bitch--- I was looking for them and I had rung the assistant at the shop and  she assured me that they had put aside---‘
ASMA---‘Hehehe--- what can I say----I didn’t mean to tell our glorious leader. How was I to know that he would ring them---well you know how it goes?’
K-----Yes P, there’s always those earrings that you told me about the other day.’
    Asma shot a glance at K, bringing an awkward silence to the gathering. The nearby guards, dripping with Kalashnikovs fidgeted nervously while the two men in black suits edged closer to the ladies---close enough to hear, but not impinging on the conversation. The gaudily dressed waiter brought yet another round of coffees.
ASMA-----‘You should really be careful who you call a bitch P----don’t worry---just joking. Perhaps we should ring ahead to that new boutique in the plaza so that they are appropriately prepared for us. You know how jittery these people get when we turn up unexpectedly.’
P------‘Oh--- you are so sensitive Asma---if only the news media reported your kindness---none of this trouble would----‘
ASMA----‘You know that is hardly likely dear. My husband often states that in his quieter moments. I’m so worried about how all this is affecting him.’
K----- Well there is an easy answer Asma--- why doesn’t he simply nationalize all the shoe shops, then he won’t need to worry.’
ASMA---- ‘I think you are right K. I’m sure it is all a distraction that he doesn’t need right now. He has so much on his plate. I mean, the other day he was meeting with officials. They were planning the latest range of homeware--- you know--- he has always been interested in trying to ‘brand’ his own line. I’m so proud of him. What got me that day, he kept getting interrupted by these silly little men--- I didn’t hear it all--- something about Homs or was it Dara--- how rude!’
K----‘Yes, my husband was at that meeting. I can tell you he came home in a foul mood. I hate it when he’s like that. Nothing I can do changes him. The servants kept their distance, I can tell you.’
ASMA----‘See--- like I was telling you a few minutes ago. It always comes back onto the little people-----GIRL! ---How dare you---look! ---- You just spilled coffee on my new dress--- that cost my dear husband $13,000. Bring the manager---- now!!!!’
   A very nervous manager appeared. He had not needed to be summoned; he had been listening from behind the curtains separating the kitchen from the dining room. He hated these occasions and now his long suffering wife was the target for the ‘first lady.’ He approached the table. Even the two ladies accompanying the ‘British woman’ looked ill at ease. He was also unsure as to how he should address the angry woman.
MANAGER----‘How may I assist, your Highness?’ He glanced at his wife, who slithered across the floor, returning a few seconds later with a damp cloth.
‘ASMA----‘What on earth are you intending to do with that, you piece of trash!? This is not some peasant dress that you have soiled. I very much doubt that even our best drycleaners at the palace can alleviate the damage you have incurred.’
MANAGER----‘I assure you Madame---- My wife knows exactly what to do. You are not the first---‘
ASMA----‘How dare you to address me as Madame---- you imbecile! It is people like you who are behind the troubles we face!’ 
   She glanced towards the windows. There was a noise like a swarm of bees, coming from somewhere in the distance. At that moment one of the guards who had been standing at the entrance, turning away other customers and ensuring that the party had the establishment to themselves, came into the cafe. He spoke quietly to the anxious head of security, who then advanced towards the First Lady. He whispered in her ear. He alone amongst the guards was able to do this.
   Her reaction was immediate. This was not the first time of late that her expeditions had been cut short. It did nothing to change her mood. She rose to her feet, trying her best to maintain her dignity.
ASMA----‘Come ladies--- it seems that the rabble are intent on yet again, spoiling our day.’ She stared at the manager. ‘You can be sure that you have not heard the last of this!’
   The guards led the party from the café and climbed unceremoniously into the waiting heavily armoured Mercedes. In less than a minute the café was deserted and the approaching horde of marchers appeared at the end of the street. It was one of top suburbs in Damascus, and had not been affected until now by the discontent spreading throughout Syria.
   The manager shut up shop, but he was too late to prevent a rock thrown by an angry middle-aged teacher come flying through the window. His wife screamed as it hit her on the forehead, causing her to collapse in a heap onto the floor, lying still as she slipped into unconsciousness. The First Lady's party sped from the scene.
ASMA----‘Take us to the new Plaza near the palace---- I feel quite faint----oh--- on second thoughts--- back to the palace. I simply cannot be seen like this. I need to change!’
   A military convoy suddenly appeared on the road ahead, rushing towards the marchers. It slowed as the commander of the leading vehicle recognized the Mercedes and he ordered the driver to stop. The vehicle behind slammed into his vehicle and it wasn’t long before several following vehicles concertinaed behind. As the First Lady’s entourage continued past the mayhem, she stared out the window, wondering why she had come to this dessert country. Such is love!