“I suffer as much as anyone does from ISIS because my family live in Iraq. They absolutely hate ISIS because they’ve made our lives a living hell.”
Hela hears her parents crying on the phone talking to relatives overseas, but she feels people don’t see Muslims as victims.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re Muslim before we’re human. We’re Muslim before we’re anything else.”
"'Don't feel alarmed,' says gun shop owner and shooting enthusiast David Tipple as he fiddles with a German World War II pistol. 'A gun is harmless so long as you're not trying to hurt somebody with it.'"
We don't ask why they're here. Instead, we help them through the first recipe. For many of these guys, basic skills like properly measuring a cup of flour have to be taught – but they're happy to learn.
And we talk about what we do in the community, and that their baking is going to women's refuges.
One baker, Kahu*, nervously asks if the women know who it's coming from – they do.
"Our views aren't publicly acceptable quite yet," one anonymous alt-right member said. "The media often paints us as evil, or vile or sick. We [could] lose our jobs, our families. Corporations don't apologise for racists ... not that we are racist."
Janet Wilmshurst’s focus is ten centimetres from her face. Crouching in the dirt in a Swanndri and gumboots, her spiky grey hair almost brushing the cave roof, she peers into a sieve with her headtorch, hoping to find the partially digested remains of a laughing owl’s lunch.
She shakes the sieve over and over, sifting through the tiny particles with practised fingers. Then—“Ooh!” She picks something minuscule out of the rubble, and passes it to Jamie Wood.
“Wing bone,” he says. “Clearly been chewed by an owl.”
He’s 34 now. And some days his pain is only at a two. Some days he can easily pick up his little boys. If he went back into manual work again he would end up in a wheelchair. He’s on a strict health plan that includes diet and exercise designed to try to simply maintain where he is. He won’t get better. There is no cure for this.
It's 5.30pm. She is 16 and doesn't know what she's having for tea.
She won't tell me her name.
Short, with curly black hair and worn shoes, she's defiant.
"You don't look like a journalist," she says. "But you don't look like the po po either."
Why is she there?
"No." As death notices go, my sister's call on a winter's day two years ago was a bit on the succinct side but it conveyed the essential information. Well, I thought, that's how it goes. It hadn't exactly come as a big surprise. We'd been expecting it for a while. And so I got on with my day – work, feeding the cats, reading YOU WON'T BELIEVE lists online – in a glum mood, nothing more. The next day I fell to pieces.
Had the operation happened within 14 days - as it was meant to - Peter could have expected to return to work within two days.
Because it didn’t, Peter is missing half his face, sleeps in a van, cannot work, and lives off $400 a week. He was given a 10 per cent chance of surviving five years. That five years just expired; he’s now on borrowed time.
Down the bank. Past the cycle path and the boundary fence and on to the Mt Roskill extension of the Western Ring Route. According to Go Media Billboards, 60,000 eyes pass this spot every day. If they looked up, just before the $1.2m Ernie Pinches pedestrian bridge, they might see a palm tree. A thick trunk, a spiky head, that started its life in a tyre.
This is a story about a tree. A family tree.
In the pantheon of jobs I’ve endured in the pursuit of less unhappiness, reporting on All Blacks weddings for a newspaper was vastly more soul-destroying than screwing in the same screw 1000 times a day on a computer assembly line. It left me feeling considerably less clean than my days as a cable layer – a job that involved actually being covered in dog manure most days.
I hated it with every fibre of my being.
More than two years later, she struggles to name the date of her exit.
“It was on leap year day, in—what’s the second month, sorry?”
That’s February. Where she grew up, the months and days of the week have only numbers, not names. She never knew her siblings’ birthdays—no one gets to stand out and be celebrated. ”No one should be made special.”
By the end of my decade and a half long bender, the shakes were bad enough I couldn't get the first couple of drinks from glass to mouth without spilling it everywhere. The trick was to make a quick diversion home en route from work to pub, improvise a sling from a bath-towel or t-shirt to hold one arm steadily in place, and wrestle to my lips a sufficient quantity to quell the shakes: precisely two cans of beer.
An artificial intelligence system that can work hand in hand with medical doctors, listening to and interpreting their notes? It sounded good, very good – almost too good to be true.
In June 2017, at the Anchor Baptist Church in Lower Hutt, Matthew Christopher Taylor was born again. Two days later he was dead, his body found in a Petone playground 2,000 kilometres from home.
“Why do I do it?” she wails. “At some point you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m in a tuxedo with “Dead bitch” written in diamantes on the back. This is not normal.’”
Possibly she does it because it’s her passion, her penance, her drug of choice.
He began wearing the jacket everywhere. He wore it when he walked across the overhead bridge to the polytechnic where he was doing his songwriting degree. It billowed out behind him like an extra body. He wore it into the CD store where the girl he liked worked. When he came home to Te Kūiti on some weekends, I was briefly enveloped in the jacket, and again before he left. ‘Take it easy, Eyelash,’ he said.
Awful as it sounds, I’d once wondered how distressed I’d be when Dad died, but I knew in that instant how much I loved my father. I couldn’t take it in. “He was too young,” I sobbed, over and over. You’d only just buried your mother, Dad. You had a book to write, cities to explore, golf to play, plants to water, a wife to love, children to talk with, grandchildren to meet.
Seen through the lens of mathematical validity, it's not at all incredible that a professor of genetics from New Zealand's fourth largest university became the world's best-known monster hunter following an unlikely Twitter exchange that would have disappeared without incident were it not for the stumbling upon it of a Scottish journalist a year later.
But mathematical validity doesn't make for a great story.
A woman said: "I'm going to politely ask you to stop nodding" to the panel, who in their sympathy could sometimes look like bobblehead toys. "This better work," some said with menace. Many begged: "Help us". Others were resigned: "This won't be the first time we've been let down".
The panel heard it all.
Used too long, the fan smells like it's going to catch fire, but you can't leave the door open when showering because the steam sets off the smoke alarm.
Instead, I leave the two windows open day and night. The view is of a hillside, steeped in foliage and the occasional kererū. At night when it's dark and still but for the sound of the occasional bird titter or rain, I run a bath, turn off the lights, sink back into the hot water and think, I'm so happy to be here.
“This isn’t the life I thought I’d have,” Caroline says quietly as we drive away from the hospital. “I loved working. I have this fantasy that I’ll have a job again one day, a career, and I’ll come home and kick my heels off, Jarrod will have a beer for me and he’ll be a stay-at-home dad, which has always been his dream. Dinner will have been slow cooking for hours. Our kids will be happy,” she says, pushing away tears.
When it comes to writing a profile on Dr Hinemoa Elder, there are two distinct challenges. One is overcoming the compulsion to write every sentence in the sycophantic style preferred by mid-90s tabloid newspapers and women's magazines, where former kids' TV presenter Elder was once favourite fodder.
The second is to get hold of her.
"There was no long-term plan. It was, we need labour - let's ship them in from the islands, let's bring them down from the rural areas, build these houses, stick them in there and get them working."
Last month, at the Going West festival in Titirangi, father and daughter shared the stage for an hour of literary chat. The chair, Steve Braunias, read out Grimshaw's line about a chaotic childhood and asked them both what that was all about. Grimshaw said: "Well – it's complicated," and Stead said: "She was the chaos," and the audience shuffled deliciously in their seats.
The sun’s up now. Jade raises her left hand, catches a shard of light in her palm. “I can’t tell you exactly when this place became my home. Maybe it was that first day and the moment I looked down and saw this.
“I can’t stay too long away from here. I couldn’t live in town. I don’t want to live in that crap.
“But this island. It’s in your soul, I don’t know if you feel it but you know once you’re away from it. It’s just a special place for special people.”
It's hard to know where my interest in war begins. My family has no military history links, that I know of. We never rose in the dark on Anzac Day. Apolitical, atheistic (perhaps as a result?), there were no dusty shoeboxes of exotic letters or knee-bouncing accounts of ancestral heroics. Boys would bring grandfathers' medals to school for "news", and afterwards I'd jealously skulk home and demand, "Did my granddads fight in the war?"
As a lightweight in a sport of giants, it was Strack’s technical proficiency that saw her excel. She was an enthusiastic student of the sport, and prided herself in her mastery of rowing’s biomechanics.
“I knew how to get a boat moving really fast,” she says.
That was until she forgot. Or at least, her body forgot.
On the morning I became a single parent, that was where I went.
I picked up my baby and walked out of the house and went down to Newtown Park.
I saw them there, laughing and talking and playing with their children, and I asked if I could sit with them.
That was how I met them.
We are all guests of Juan, who somehow found his way here via film-making in Indonesia and Far North Queensland. He is a very interesting dude and has got me into a situation where I now wish I was somewhere else. My mouth continues to dry up because I have a feeling what’s in store for us over a weekend will transform our lives, possibly forever.