A recipe for kindness: teaching baking behind prison bars

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.

Read More

Return of the lost birds

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.”

Read More

Dear Paul... A letter to my dead brother on his birthday

"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.

Read More

An epic tale of a Pacific family, and a tree

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. 

Read More

Confessions of an All Blacks wedding reporter

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.

Read More

My last ever drink - why I gave up even though booze never gave up on me

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.

Read More

Big Red

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.

Read More

A letter to my father

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.

Read More

What lies beneath? The New Zealander on the trail of monsters

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.

Read More

Turning 30 meant a new city and home of my own

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.

Read More

Elliot has a brain tumour

“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.

Read More