It’s Not News

It’s not news that men have poison in them.

It’s not news that women suffer for it.  They have for centuries at least.  They suffer now.  It is there written in the future.  Many other things are unclear about the future, but that a man’s poison will hurt a woman is already painted in for us to walk towards.

It’s not original to say that the poison in men hurts them too.  That it deforms them.  Limits them.  Stops them being who they could be, and stops others from being who they could be.  That the culture we inherit creates the vocabulary of our minds about work, play, gender, love, sexuality.  It tells us what power looks like.  It defines what is weak.  Masculine.  Feminine.  It inhabits the minds of the giant popular culture machines spewing out the endless representations of dead, fearful, silent and victimised women, and the living, heroic, outspoken and dominating men.  It shrugs at the video games, and TV shows, and films.

It’s not news that the latest murder victim is a woman killed by a man.  It happens every day.  Many times every day.  Hundreds upon hundreds of time a week.  Around the world.  Deaths.  Men killing women.  Hitting women.  Raising their fist.  Raising their voice.  Denying women choices.  Eliminating possibilities.  Death is only the most final, most extreme oppression; the ultimate silencing that in a terrible way ends the power of one man over one woman, but spreads the fear of it – of what man is capable off – into the hearts and minds of another generation.  That says to women:

Be careful who you talk to.  Where you go.  What you say.  Think about how you will get there.  How you will get home.  What you wear.  How you act.  React.  How risky it is to snap back and assert yourself.  Read the room.  Read the street.  Read the rock concert crowd.  The public toilets.  The night.

It’s not news that women are not free and that men are.  True to say that men have not had the same thoughts.  Heading out.  Coming home.  Clothes.  Actions.  Reactions.  Rooms.  Streets.  Rock concerts.  They are have no other message.  Through them is no thread of danger.  The street is what I walk down with my mates.  The rock concert is where I check out the chicks in tank tops.  The night is exciting.

A truth well-known that women work.  Women cook.  Clean.  Organise the family birthdays.  Hang out the laundry.  Kiss the child’s knee.  Do the work of crying.  Hugging.  Talking about love, and the loss of love.  The daily work of saying “no” to raise children who appreciate a “yes”.  Buying clothes.  Packing bags for trips so no one forgets their toothbrush.  Who remind men to do things, and who phrases that the right way so they don’t get called a nag.

It’s not news.

That the problem is men.  The culture of man.  And that men don’t show up.  That they celebrate their culture of man directly or ironically.  Some of them knowing the harm.  That they let women do the work of home and love  because women are “better at it”.  Because why wouldn’t they?  Because they’re lazy.  That they sometimes lift a finger and expect praise.  That they think boys will be boys.  Girls will be girls.  Everyone in their role.  A little violence every now and then.  It goes around.

So ingrained that even many women see the world in the way many men want them to.  So complicated because all women are different, and not all men.

But so simple in its theme.

The police are seeking information about another woman, and holding another man in relation to their inquiry.

Go tell it to Women’s Refugee.  Not all men.

Go tell it to Rape Crisis.

To young women everywhere.

Not all men but always a man.

And when you ask for consent education to be made compulsory in all schools in New Zealand the Ministry of Education compliments your female students on their leadership, says it’s a sensitive issue, refers people to their parents.  Where are all the boys schools in this debate?  Where are all the men in law?  In entertainment?

I’m tired of attending sessions to talk about what women can do.  Tired of hearing the statistics.  Tired of reading the news.  Hurt by the grief of another family.  When will you get here men?  When will you come and sit at the feet of the victims and listen?

Come.  Listen.

Then we can start the work.  Then we can have some news.

I think we might need to save Berhampore

A little while ago I helped to write a book about Berhampore.  In the very few years that have passed since then Berhampore has already changed.  Even as that book was having its final edits done the church that had been in the community for most of a century – St. Cuthbert’s – was bulldozed and replaced by townhouses.  Soon after that a couple of houses on Herald Street, that I walked past on the way to Berhampore School, were knocked down and replaced by townhouses.  Another house and garages on Rintoul Street, near the shops, again demolished and replaced by townhouses.  A two-storey, derelict shop on Adelaide Road that provided shelter at the bus stop was bulldozed in a day.  Now it is a rectangle of dirt.  Another old shop came down later at the intersection of Adelaide Road and Luxford Street.  The two buildings next to that lot are now empty and for sale.  Up Britomart Street two substantial buildings have gone leaving an old house marooned between two fields of dirt.  The sign outside one advertises townhouses.

The sign is a Tommy’s sign.  The same company that painted an old shop on Berhampore’s main road a violent green as advertising for its brand.  As advertising for the service it provides: flogging townhouses.

One of those big historic buildings that came down on Britomart Street was the property of the Salvation Army.  Another of their properties is being demolished on Constable Street.  This is because they sold many of their properties to consolidate in a new monstrosity in Newtown.  A monstrosity that required the demolition of a whole block of historic buildings.  Organisations don’t care about their neighbours.  The Anglican Church, the Salvation Army.  No matter how long they sit in a community when the finances stop adding up they’re out.

Another group of people who don’t care about communities are property developers and real estate agents.

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Property developers want to maximise return on land.  They will build as much as they can on a space as a result. With the cheapest materials.  What they build does not fit anything around it.  Take the units on Herald Street.  The houses on either side are single storey with slanting roofs.  The new units are two-storey and rectangular.  They look out over their surroundings uncomfortably.  A square block in a row of triangles.

Across the road from these new units is a giant apartment complex.  I’ve been in one those apartments.  They are too hot in summer, and the bedrooms are dim and so badly designed you cannot get a double bed into them and have room for anything else.  There’s not even enough room to walk down the side of the bed.

When you begin to accumulate ugly, functional, cheaply made buildings in a neighbourhood you begin to get views like this:

It’s not even that everything old needs to be preserved.  The houses on Herald Street that have been replaced were small.  They were in a hollow in the street and must have been damp and unpleasant with pokey rooms.  But what has replaced them is not good.  Not in character.  Not in sympathy.

You can see the same thing on Adelaide Road in the Berhampore shops.

Between Tommy’s garish paint job and the two empty old buildings an ugly, tall, out of style block of apartments.

What do we want in Berhampore?  Those old shops that still stand are 100 years old.  They are handmade works of art built out of native New Zealand wood, and have been home to generations of shop-keepers and families.  They are part of the identity of this place.  Part of the history of Wellington.

Is there a plan here?  Shouldn’t there be?  If those two shops on Adelaide Road go the whole character of that area has gone.  If more and more townhouse developments are constructed out of sympathy with the built environment then soon townhouses will dominate and they will set the character of this place.

I hate it.  Change.  Change upon change.  Paint half the buildings green.  Smash the rest down.  Nothing lasts.