Taranaki

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Crisp, damp air cools the thin skin of my pink cheeks

as I pick my way through the wet ferns and grasses that have grown over the track, rainwater streaked over my grey jeans.
A rich peaty smell rises from decaying wood and leaves,
exposed banks crumbling bits of orange clay and dark black soil that get stuck in clods to the bottom of my boots.
Above me, the white sky is barely visible. The whole path is a tunnel of green; moss covered trees dripping with lichens block out most descending light.
There are slippery rocks that one must take care over when picking across an icy cold stream. The water is clear and steady, having been slowly filtered though a millennium of volcanic rock and spewed from the cracks of the mountain.
Tree roots line the forest floor like a net of fresh shining liquorice, and bright orange bracket fungi cling to the base of some of the more ancient species of tree.
A plethora of birdsong can be heard among the gentle rustle of leaves and flow of the many streams.
On this, the aptly named ‘Enchanted track.’

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My cousin Hone

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Always keen for a swim

You know the kind of blokes you sometimes meet, the ones who talk about how they’re going to travel to loads of different places, all the great meals they can make, they post loads of pictures on Facebook and Instagram of how the surf’s looking today and how much they like drinking beer… well my cousin is like, the complete opposite of that.

When he’s not jumping off the roof of the social club in a Dracula cape and fangs (Halloween & Rugby cup final) or running gladly into the ocean with swim shorts ripped from seam to seam he’ll either be preparing for the next grand cycle trip (as it appears the length of the South Island was just too easy) or sitting in the pub sipping on a cold ginger beer and downloading torrents on his laptop.

I had the pleasure of sharing his dads/ my uncles crumbling bush bach with him all summer on a small sub-tropical island,there were good times, there were bad times, but always Hone’s unusual wit and endless “would you rather” scenarios kept us both going.

One evening when we returned from an evening at Muay-Thai kickboxing training we opened the sliding door of the house to be met with the most heinous stench. Hone, who has almost no sense of smell, narrowed his eyes and said “something smells weird” and I retorted “no shit, something has died” we rifled around looking for the culprit but soon gave up as were were too tired and went to bed. The next morning the smell was worse, and it was coming from the kitchen. Hone propositioned; “If you can find it with your superior sense of smell Bry, then I’ll deal with it”  it seemed like a fair deal to me and I started to lift up old bowls and look round the back of the range. I eventually tugged back a huge cast iron pot from underneath the out-of-use wood stove and my nostrils were met with a plume of rotted rodent vapours. Flies were disturbed by the sudden movement around the bloated fat rat corpse and I fled in horror quoting Withnail and I; “Get back! The whole scene’s gone rotten!”. Reluctantly and dutifully Hone picked up the trap which hadn’t even been baited and disposed of the festering carcass over the edge of the deck, throwing the bastard back into the rugged bush from whence it came, not before I got a photo of course

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Disposing of the corpse

Aside from the fact he is hardy and generally pretty hilarious, he is undoubtedly the most active person I know. In just one day we climbed Mt. Hobson in sixty minutes (the DOC sign suggested it takes three and a half hours to the summit) although I think Hon could have done it faster, as he ran most of it in his big black boots, backpack full of squashed lime-pickle sandwiches and orange juice in tow. As if the climb wasn’t enough we went body surfing at Palmers beach AND THEN he still had enough energy for touch rugby at the sports club. A typical day for the ‘Meater Eater’ as he’s known by his fellow rugby players.

There sure is no one like Hone. I don’t know anyone else that tops every meal with hot fresh chillis, or will hitch for a ride holding a book in one hand and his thumb out with the other, nor do I know any other twentyfour year olds who have physics themed posters stuck up on their bedroom wall with electrical tape, or who would pick a new years bobbing around in hot pools amongst the glow worms and volcanic mud over a party. It’s Hon all over, and I must say I’m starting to miss the old boy.

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He walked with a stick for a while after busting his ankles

 

Take your shoes off and get in amongst it: barefoot walking

Barefoot tramping
Barefoot tramping

A walk in a nearby park filled with Oak, Beach, Ash and Chestnut trees reveals the last vestiges of summer are slowly disappearing day by day. Though the sight of greenery and decay can be seen as woeful, this is the perfect time for leaf peeping and getting some fresh Autumnal air through the windpipes.

Around October many colds and other sickly viruses float around in stuffy spaces when people are feeling run down and partied-out after a season of fast paced action. But there is hope in sight! Research from Dr Mercola implies that walking barefoot allows people to pick up electrons from the ground which help keep our immune systems in check and improve our overall health:
“Your immune system functions optimally when your body has an adequate supply of electrons, which are easily and naturally obtained by barefoot contact with the Earth.
Research indicates that electrons from the Earth have antioxidant effects that can protect your body from inflammation and its many well-documented health consequences. For most of our evolutionary history, humans have had continuous contact with the Earth.
It is only recently that substances such as asphalt, wood, rugs, and plastics have separated us from this contact.”

The park near my residence
The park near my residence
Indeed, there is much evidence to suggest that on a day to day basis, most of us will walk around in socks and shoes and most often on tarmac or un-organic flooring of some kind. The research continues to suggest that not only is barefoot walking beneficial for picking up electrons, but that it is good for the foot and its muscles; strengthening the bones and increasing overall flexibility all the way up the leg.

Personally, I like to walk barefoot amongst the grass and crispy leaves for sensory enjoyment. It feels truly refreshing to press my (usually very squashed) wide feet into the soft brown earth, to feel with my soles the moving of life under the soil, to spread my toes and get air between those ignored little figures. People wonder and sometimes ask “does it not hurt, stepping on a prickle or stone?” it does, a little, but never enough to put me off. And it is good to feel a sting or stub once in a while, to alert your feet, to spread them out like the beautiful petals of a flower.

So, next time you’re out and about with the birds and the trees I urge you to kick of your shoes and bound fearlessly amongst it; do not step gingerly my friend, half the benefits of the action are in the vigour of which you go about it.

Beautiful conkers; like jewels on the ground.
Beautiful conkers; like jewels on the ground.

Information from :
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/11/04/why-does-walking-barefoot-on-the-earth-make-you-feel-better.aspx

Freshers Week- The Aftermath

“DOWN IT FRESHER!” There I was, cornered amongst the ironing boards of a humid student flat, 30 odd students crammed into a kitchen- lounge in our ‘beach party’ themed get-up, attempting to intoxicate myself for the fifth night in a row. Loud music sounded though someones very swanky looking MacBook Air from atop the fridge and a hap-hazard game of beer pong was taking place amongst the havok.

“WHO WANTS SHOTTSSS?!” Yelled a daring Dutchman wearing a bandana from across the room. He lunged himself hither and thither with a bottle of Glens Vodka in each hand, freely dispensing it wherever it was wanted. Shoulder top wrestling commenced outside while a seemingly sober group of people attempted ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ with their flat mates crockery. All this before we even leave campus.

After some time of increased drunken debauchery around the student village, the hoard dispersed to find the bus stop… where is it? When does the bus come? Which stop do we need and where are we even going? So many questions to which no one had any decipherable answer.

After much consulting with a (clearly very distressed and fed-up) bus driver, we reached our destination- the nightclub! Hurrah! But look, the que stretches halfway down the street forcing many desperate punters to find a quiet alleyway in which to empty their bladders and throw away old bottles of back-washed pre-drink. Inside, the club was full and booming; while waiting in line for a drink I observed awkward hook-ups… they looked so nervous and afraid of each other I begin to wonder what the actual point of the whole exercise is “there’s no point” confirmed my Norweigen flatmate “It’s just the alcohol”.

Anyway, enough about the sweaty clubs and filthy hangovers, that’s half the challenge; the other half is trying to work out where you need to be for your enrollment, how the library works (it’s very futuristic if there’s anything to be said from it), and where to buy food and aspirins. It’s all very confusing and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so clueless in my twenty years but at least we’re all in it together, eating food from Iceland and signing up to way too many societies and clubs in the midst of the Freshers Fair.

Though it was a fun week and I met so many interesting, witty and vivacious young people all living within four hundred meters of me, let’s just say I’m glad it’s over. That is, until next year when I’ll probably find myself being a club promoter or warden of some description to pay for the rent. Until then, I’ll let my liver rest and put my brain in gear for some hard-out study time!

Humble pie: The therapy of gatherer cooking

Apples and blackberries

On a section of Bridleway I call ‘Crumble gate’ I quietly pick blackberries, succulent and ripe, from their thorny stalks while listening to the sound of birds and the gentle rustling of trees in the cool, autumnal breeze. In terms of harvesting and enjoying the free fruits, September is my favourite month of the year, not to mention the sight of the gradual turning colour of leaves into crisp caramel swathes.

I believe there to be a certain therapy in picking berries and apples, specially if it’s only up the road. Away from traffic is preferable to avoid pollution on to the fruit. I feel so at peace with nature and somewhat primal while I quietly pluck away at what will later become a delicious pudding treat. I also feel a sense of nostalgia; much of my summer childhood was spent looking forward to and making blackberry and apple pie, cutting fruit shapes from leftover pastry to glue atop the dish with milk.

Aside from the enjoyable experience of gathering blackberries, the small dark fruits are a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Manganese (Source: Self Nutrition Data) making it an even more appealing snack or pudding substance!

So, why not make an autumnal afternoon of gathering and cooking the ingredients for a pie or crumble? If you’re lucky, you may also come across cooking apples too! Relish the last of the English sun, breath in the cool air and taste the fruits of 2014… but most importantly, EAT PIE!

‘Poetry is just songwriting for Hipsters’

– said an acquaintance of mine not long ago. ‘No!’ I protested, ‘I just can’t play instruments!’. I feel that actually while poetry can go so very wrong, with the many cliches and faux pas that many writers can mistake for art (I include myself in this, you know) poetry is creating images, nostalgia, and scenes with the simplicity of words. Songwriting, while a noble profession is about performance, music, actual singing.

Plus, there’s the fact that many of us aren’t actually fortunate enough to be musically talented… I for one have no sense of rhythm, and try as I might on my £4 market bought guitar I still cannot create any decipherable tune; it’s still so awful my mother won’t let me play in the house. I would love to turn my poetry into music and sing away… but instead I find myself labelled as a Hipster- how ghastly!

On top of that, poetry is more transportable (unless you have a harmonica or really tiny guitar) than music and arguably more digestible? Anyway, I didn’t want this to turn into a long list of pros and cons for poetry and music because I love and appreciate both. Just wanted to right a wee column to say poetry is for everyone! Not just try-hards!

But do we actually NEED vagina spray?

Some of the vast number of Goodle results for 'Vagina Spray'
Some of the vast number of Goodle results for ‘Vagina Spray’

Recently I was disgruntled and annoyed to see vaginal odour altering sprays advertised on the television. I’ve always known such a product is on the market; it has been for fifty years or more. But the question is, do we really need them, and are women being targeted over the insecurity that their flower smells less than fruity?
I argue that no, women do not need such sprays and may actually be damaging to the ph balance of the vagina! A simple daily rinse with water in the shower is all that is needed to keep ones genitals clean… thats why women have discharge, to keep everything tip-top on the inside. To ‘seal in’ odour or give the vagina a ‘scented freshness’ is frankly damaging and may cause unnecessary irritation.

The other point I’d like to make about such products is that I believe them to be targeting women’s insecurities. What is the most sensitive and taboo subject for women? Vagina smell you say? Let’s cash in! How obtuse of the product creators to make us feel we have to buy their product so our genitals are more appealing. What’s more, a similar search on the same search engine for mens penis sprays had less than half the results, few of which targeted smell, but rather, ‘lasting longer in bed’ (another play on insecurities, but still not as damaging as being told you need to ‘block odour’ everyday).

I will just extract a quote from Germaine Greer: “Vaginal secretions are the subject of a vast folklore; the huge advertising campaigns for deodorants and sweeteners of the vulvar area deliberately play upon female misgivings about the acceptability of natural tastes and odours. One vaginal deodorant is even flavoured with peppermint to provide an illusion of freshness and inhumanity. Others are metholated. The vaginal is described as a problem preventing some of the niceness of being close. The excessive use of douches with chemical additives is actually harmful to the natural balance of organisms existing in the vagina, and yet no doctor has dared to denounce it openly.”-The Female Eunuch Page 290, (published 1970).

The popularity and money being made by the products concerns me. They is not only unnecessary and damaging to women’s bodies, but damaging to the psyche too; as if women do not have enough trouble in shaving, plucking, waxing, and buying pretty lacy panties, we are now expected to deodorize and flavour our flaps too. Men don’t have to put up with this, and I’m having none of it!