A time for selling

“Can you come over here?”

The question came at me from a young frumpy looking blond woman sitting on the corner of Trafalgar and Hardy St. She wore circus pants, held a cardboard box on her lap and for some reason she said she couldn’t stand up right now. I turned and stood over her raising my eyebrows. My eyebrows asked if there was something I could do. She asked something a bit different.

“Do you consider yourself an environmentally friendly person?” My eyebrows dropped. An environmentally friendly person? I would have to think about this one. Am I friendly to the environment? What was that supposed to mean? She looked up at me standing over her and then raised her eyebrows hopefully. I looked up at the sky, pensive for a moment, pondering my friendliness in general. Yes, in general I believe myself to be reasonably friendly, but to the environment specifically? Am I selective with my friendliness? I looked down at her and replied simply:”No.”

She looked a little defeated. Her eyebrows dropped. “Fair enough,” she said. And I continued on my way. Christmas time is a time for charity and if we forget that there are any number of individuals lining Trafalgar St to make sure we remember. This week World Vision from Christchurch has been in Nelson selling the betterment of children living in the Niger. Sounds like a worthy cause, and they are good at making it sound so. I was approached by a nice chap who didn’t ask me a left field question that was supposed to divide the moral from the unworthy. There was no, “Do you care about starving children in Africa?” Instead he introduced himself showed me a picture of a young boy and started his pitch about what the charity hoped to achieve. It was more a conversation than a confrontation. And as I looked around at his other colleagues up and down the street I could see that all three of them were engaged with passersby. One of them was actually quite attractive, which can’t hurt. The sales pitch doesn’t work on everyone. Some cross the road to get away from charity workers. They pretend to be reading text messages, look at their watch, say somthing resembling “sorry, busy” or start searching for that receipt from three years ago that might get them a free cookie from Subway.

I don’t mind talking to charity workers. Of course not everyone who stops you in the street is a charity worker. One of the best salesmen I met was a Hare Krishna. He had a weird haircut, roman sandals and an orange robe, not generally an ensemble that would put you at complete ease. But this chap was simply a conversationalist. He did ask a stupid question to get into it though. “Do you know what grief is?” I thought I am probably about find out. However, he was a really nice guy, shame his product wasn’t something I was that keen on for a Christmas present. Unfortunately for him at that moment in time I did not want to buy a $200 hard cover book explaining the virtues of his religion. Not today. Contrast that with a lady over the weekend at the Cathedral steps who didn’t really seem to be selling anything. Except perhaps my eternal salvation. She just handed me a photocopy of the Ten Commandments and went about her day. I am already reasonably sold on most of those anyway. All the main ones at least. It is speaking to people like the above that makes me think about my own ability to sell something. Looking back on my menial work history I am quite relieved to discover that I have never really sold anything. I have never gone up to someone in a shop and had to ask “can I help?” Or approached someone on the street and asked “do you think you are a good person?” Not that I don’t like sales people, for sure I occasionally like buying things but it is always a little fake and both parties know it. But it is a game we play. It reminded me of my university history professor. He was the type of person who read Freud for kicks, Plato for a party and Aristotle for a laugh. I asked him why he wanted to be an academic. “I just never wanted to sell anything,” he said. The idea I really don’t like are charities that start out polarising you into feeling that if you don’t give $40 a month you will you never be satisfied with your life. I give $40 a month but it is slovenly, I don’t do anything, it’s on automatic payment. That’s not charity, that’s acquiescence. But it least it makes me feel like I am a doing little something for someone else occasionally. Now I never did find out why that frumpy woman asked me that question.


Charles vs Wild

It must have been somewhere between my second swig of beer, drifting down the Motueka River on a mildly seaworthy inflatable craft, fishing rod in one hand, oar in the other, when I remembered why it was good to be born without ovaries.

It’s not that I have anything against women. I love women, my mum’s one, and my grandma. But there is a recklessness born within all men that makes them think that the above exercise is not only safe, but imperative to reassert one’s dominance over nature. And one needs to dominate nature. Don’t they? Hasn’t that been the basis of all history? Man dominating something.

I wasn’t prepared to break convention.

So floating down the river I was reminded of my good friend Bear Grylls who hosts a show appropriately entitled Man vs Wild. Bear is an ex SAS para trooper who broke his back during a mission, thought he would never walk again but then came back in glorious fashion to kick ass across the African desert, the Amazon jungle and the Mississippi swamp lands. Our experience was not as impressive as having to disembowel a dead camel and squeeze liquid from its half digested food roughage to survive but as I looked around at our environment munching a packet of salt and vinegar Kettle chips I could only think: “Man we are extreme” and then “pass me another beer”.

The trip was organised by a chap who recently became a dad. I got the feeling the idea was to cram as many manly things into a 2-3 hour period as possible. Manliness, I understand, is generally consumed in the all encompassing work of changing nappies, feeding babies with stewed apple and buying miniature pink pyjamas. You can understand why he needed to get on the river and drink something.

The fishing wasn’t very successful. Supposedly the Mot River has some sort of trout in it. Smart creatures apparently. A little too smart it seems. The red bucket purposefully set aside for our impressive catch, remained empty – a constant reminder of our failures as hunter gatherers. 

The first rapids, funnily enough, came quickly. And I wouldn’t exactly call them rapids. More like little swelly waves. Like I say, the boat was only mildly seaworthy. I am informed that it was purchased some time during the 1960s, the golden age of rafting. Not anymore. It took about 30mins to blow up and it bobbed around like a cork in a bathtub.

“Row Charlie row,” the call came.

“I’m trying,” I replied “can’t you see I have a beer in my hand and some Kettle chips in the other”. Some people have no understanding of priorities. So instead of rowing I slipped over and flailed on the bottom of the boat, unable to get up. The waves were relentless, punishing the vintage orange beast as if it was a naughty child. It was all very emotional. Lying helpless it dawned on me that I had left the strategic decision making to the other two raftsmen, a fact I was not comfortable about. But I had failed in the hour of need, the hour when men stand up and become leaders.

Then, all of a sudden, the punishing stopped. A quiet came over the river – we were free from its mighty grip. The birds chirped on the river bank, the lads slurped on a Speights. And I smiled, knowing I had conquered the wild.

“Man you are rubbish at this Charlie.”

Yes I am.

The girls picked us up and drove us home.

My Fickle Friend

I hate tissues. Correction: I hate having to use tissues. My esteemed colleague has already disclosed the only thing she dislikes about summer is bored teenagers harassing her but I know she secretly likes the attention. For me, however, it is somthing slightly more serious. Just when the rain breaks, the clouds disperse, the winter chill thaws and the cold and flus subside – just when all that great fun stuff fades away, I start sneezing. Oh cruel summer. Damn your histamines and your vicious ability to make my eyes water and force me to have to go to the bathroom every five minutes for a fresh new wad of one-ply toilet-paper. Damn you one-ply toilet-paper. Damn your ability to grate against my septum. My nose is now red. My eyes are red. My fury is red. I need aloe vera paper, that looks refreshing. It is a cruel fate to have to take prescription drugs to fully enjoy summer. A bitter pill to swallow that to enjoy nature’s bloom I have to be heavily medicated. Or partially intoxicated. Or both. I am pretty sure there is not a surgeon general’s advice to avoid combining alcohol and “histos” (street talk). But I wouldn’t know because struggle to read small print through my watery eyes. I take no liability if I am to handle heavy machinery. It’s not that I don’t like summer, I really do. But there are things I don’t like about it. Case in point: flies. As in little flying insects that don’t serve any apparent purpose than to get on things you want to eat. What are the odds? I like jam but flies also like jam. Why is it that we have to share? I don’t go and try and usurp their decomposing possum on the side of the road. I wouldn’t even if I was partial to it, it’s just not good manners. But flies have no manners. Rude little bastards, rubbing their little hands, plotting to steal my strawberry conserve. Sun burn. I like the idea of sun. But why create something so lovely to enjoy but, once again, to enjoy it you need to be externally medicated. Why can’t my skin just naturally turn a healthy Mediterranean olive (my natural skin tone) without the aid of SPFs? I don’t want to be protected from the sun by a factor of 30, I want to embrace it and soak it up on my solar panel belly. But no. If I do this, (as I have been prone to do) my solar panel belly turns roasted beetroot purple. Note to self: the babes do not like beetroot purple. The summer wind. Not the sexy Michael Buble/Frank Sinatra type of wind but those strange hot winds that make you go a little cooky. Makes people do strange things. Where “every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.” I am not sure it is quite so serious in Nelson, we haven’t even got a cool name for ours. In Los Angeles during their Santa Ana winds, some teachers do not attempt to conduct formal classes because the children become unmanageable. In Switzerland during their Foehn wind, the suicide rate goes up and in the courts of some Swiss cantons the wind is considered a mitigating circumstance for crime. At least now we all have an excuse. Kinda. And it rained yesterday. Oh summer, my fickle friend.