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Monday, 5 February 2007

Things Tribal

As Baby H lies in the pram, his eyes widen at the sight against a grey sky of peoples’ heads as they zoom in and out of shot, and of all the other sights to see on Dunedin’s George Street. The sound of a bus’s hissing brakes, the sudden rataplan of a motor bike, the yelping bip-bip-bip-bip-bip-bip of the signal to cross, don’t seem to faze him at all. It may have even got a little boring, because he soon drops off to sleep.
We are off to a Mothers and Babies Group - not that I am Baby H’s mother. As his Nanny, I can be nothing more than a facsimile. Mothers of young babies are like a foreign species to me now. It’s been twenty years since I’ve been anywhere near a meeting like this.
I pass a poet/magician I know and laugh at what must be to him (who only knows my writing-side) a rather incongruous sight: me wheeling a pram. I explain that the baby is not mine, or even related. I don’t know why I feel the need to explain, but it has happened before - if I meet someone I know, I feel compelled to explain. I guess I’m a little embarrassed, at my age, to be wheeling a pram.
He says, “I need one of those.”
I say, “What? A baby?”
“No,” he says, “The pram - for my magician’s gear.”
At the next intersection, across the street, I see someone I know I should know. The hat. The stance. Is he a painter? The pieces slowly assemble until it’s not a male at all, it’s K, Son M’s fiance in her paint-splattered working jeans, her hair shoved under a cap. Lately she’s been painting houses to earn money, but not for much longer - she shows me the new, black top she’s bought herself for a job interview.* I wish her luck.
* She ended up getting the job.
As I suspected, I felt ancient at the Mother’s Gathering (they used to be called Coffee Mornings in my day. And there were no such things as flat whites or long blacks either - just plain, instant coffee, New Zealand being for the longest time the backwater of any coffee culture.) Plus, all my babies slept on their tummies, their noses buried in a sheepskin. I was never as paranoid about germs or the sun as these mothers are. I never had a friendly mid-wife to grow so attached to I cried when it was time for her to ‘cut the cord’, so to speak. I only had a formal relationship with an aloof, although well-mannered, doctor - which, I hasten to add, was quite enough for me to handle at the time. And, I am happy to report, that ‘nipple confusion’ was not a term bandied about over our early-80's brown, pottery coffee mugs.
The terror was beginning to build. Luckily, I spotted yet another poet (what was this? Poets Outing Day?) and so I scuttled over to escape the talk that had turned to the merits of ginger and rhubarb to relieve wind. Together we lamented the lack of poetry readings in Dunedin at the moment. I was grateful for this distraction and the reminder of another world outside of babies.
After what I deemed to be a respectable amount of time, I made my exit and happily wheeled the pram back along George Street, back to the apartment where Baby H and his parents live, with its seagull colours of grey, black and white, its orange accents, its hermetically-sealed interior; its quiet cover. I could relax. That was more than enough exposure to the outside world for one day, thank you.


At the moment in NZ there is a bit of a buzz about a book just published called '8 Tribes, The Hidden Classes of New Zealand' in which the writers expound the theory of there being in NZ society, 8 tribes, which they have duly defined and named according to the suburbs or areas which best portray the tribal characteristics. Their website has a test you can do to find out which tribe you belong to. I am always a sucker for these sorts of things (Why is that? Maybe because I am still self-actualising.) Anyway, I took the test and it was as I had suspected - I belonged to the Raglan tribe - the free spirited tribe that likes to live by the sea. As well, I closely affiliate with the intellectual tribe - called the Grey Lynn tribe. Thankfully I had nothing whatsoever in common with the Remuera (upwardly mobile and materialistic) or the North Shore (well-heeled, well-mannered and well-schooled) tribes. Which probably means that as well as being a free spirit, I'm also an inverted snob.



Endment said...

How well you have described the experience of moving across the unwritten cultural lines... Living in New York the lines are sometimes blurred but there is always that awareness

pepektheassassin said...

Good post. In my day, my babies all slept on their tummies, too, and diapers were cloth and needed safety pins. I often took them out in the sun, for fifteen or twenty minutes, and turned them over like pancakes. And, like pancakes, they turned golden brown. (Back then the sun was my friend. It's not my friend anymore--having survived melanoma!)

I'm GLAD your spirit is FREE!

dinzie said...

I never did recover from my nipple confusion ..... :O)

mcdinzie said...

I'm not going anywhere near that nipple comment :)

I must go take that test, I think we will probably live in deferent tribes!!

chiefbiscuit said...

endment - I am sure it's fairly international - just different names for the tribes!

pepek - Oh yes I remember the cloth nappies (urrr ... that's diapers in Americana!)

dinzie - Explains a lot!!!

McD - I think you're wise to stay away. :)
And yes I think we will be in different tribes too ;)

Remiman said...

I enjoy how you take an average day an use it to hone your observational skills. To make the ordinary and even mundane interesting is a admirable skill, and you are a master.
I took the test. AND......MY dominant tribe is Balclutha

You're from the commonsense tribe who know that pride comes before a fall and the people you can count on are the people that really count.

chiefbiscuit said...

rel - Now that I know you are from the Balclutha tribe, I can treat you just like I treat my brothers - they're Balclutha men also! ;)

mcdinzie said...

I was wrong we ended up in the same tribe!!!

Jan said...

LIke Remiman,I admire how you give The Ordinary a measure ( in fact, often a dollop!! ) of intrigue. It really is a talent. You also write stuff with which we empathise.
RE the 8 tribes. A friend is off to NZ tomorrow, flying from M/Ch to visit her daughter in Wellington. I shall mention this book next time I email .

Kake said...

This is a great description -- I feel like I was there, since I know the places you're talking about. The bit about the magician/poet needing a pram is very funny.
I took the test and turned out to be part of the Grey Lynn set.

chiefbiscuit said...

mcd - Who'd a thunk?

jan - You wouldn't want to take the test yourself? Just transfer Grey Lynn for somewhere in the UK where literary people hang out and Cuba Street for somewhere bohemian etc ;)

kake!!! - Thanks for dropping by - do come again! (Somehow I think I know you ;) Was there a little bit of Raglan and Cuba Street there in your affiliations as well?

Avus said...

"the sudden rataplan of a motor bike" - what a lovely onomatopoeia - have never heard it before.

Tammy said...

Things are so different with raising children these days. Just the products alone!

Interesting about the tribe bit "inverted snob" LOL


kj said...

this is a nice piece of writing, chief. i am now a new grandmother and last friday we pushed this not-so-little carriage along a busy city street, along with my new-mother-daughter. quite a sensation. i wonder if you will fall in love with this child? i'd like to hear how it goes.

we are likely in the same tribe(s). i'm not surprised...


ecm said...

I really enjoyed really are able to breathe life in to the ordinary

chiefbiscuit said...

avus - Thanks - it seems to describe the sensation as well as the sound - I love the word!

tammy - I agree - they even have little skateboards attached to the pram for the toddler to ride while the new brother or sister's in the pram - oh how I could have done with thatinvention/improvement.

kj - I fall in love with babies very easily - however I fear I will have to say good-bye to this wee one shortly (sniff) :(

ecm - Thank you. You're sweet to say so. :)

Cailleach said...

I loved the start where you were describing the street-scape, almost as though seen for the first time. Aren't kids great for that extra perspective sometime?

I once went to a M&B group like that on my first. After a while I sort of dropped out because it got a bit boring talking nappies and nipples when I wanted to be anywhere else! Everyone else seemed to know what they were talking about and I felt a bit daft! Thank goodness, now it's been at least three/four years since I had to worry about nappies or teething!

chiefbiscuit said...

cailleach - You and me both then! ;) I must say I really enjoy the fact that I hand Baby H over to his Mum and Dad at the end of the day - all yours!

Becky said...

I never did well at Mother's Gatherings. When they spoke of how we wouldn't, of COURSE, give our children candy, there I was usually, sucking on a chocolate Easter rabbit.
Baby H sounds a love.


paris parfait said...

Luckily I missed most of those mother's gatherings, as I was usually working. (Of course I also missed a lot of time with my daughter, but bills had to be paid). I enjoyed reading this account of your day and your encounters with poets.

GeL(Emerald Eyes) said...

Fascinating post. I'm not surprised you're a "free spirit." :)
As for using the pram for magician's gear, only a few months ago, my husband reminded me I had no right to lament that I gave away our stroller about 10 years ago. We used to use it for carting things, too, once our kids had outgrown it. (I assume with how articulate you are, you know that a stroller is a pram in the USA? Unless I've made a mistake and a pram is not a baby carriage or stroller...)

I also smiled at "poet's outing out." I read your post far too fast and shall return after work to catch the nuances of your wonderful writing.

wendy said...

How did you spot the poet? Did she have a baby too?? I always explaining myself. Right now I'm lurking in my bedroom...I've had enough of the world for now..too. Coming here is always like coming home. Thanks Chief!!

chiefbiscuit said...

becky - I knew we were soul mates!

pp - Thanks. I'm sure you did the right thing.

gel - I think what we calla pram is a baby cariage over there - we say stroller for the smaller version.

wendy - I spotted the poet because I knew him after having been to a few poetry readings and such-like.
Thanks for the kind words - hope the world is back in favour again now! :)

Carole said...

This was a great read. My daughter says I'm an inverted snob. I was once so into babies: I started a mother and toddler (now called carer and toddler to be pc)club when my two youngest were small. It has taken me some time to adjust to the world of my only grandchild (now four)- I feel I'm getting too old. Lucky you to have so many poets around!

chiefbiscuit said...

carole - Thanks. So you too know that feeling of 'getting too old'! I have just posted an update on the Baby H job - I have actually said good-bye to him now ... sniff sniff. But I know where to go to see him again and to visit, so it's not so bad.

leonie said...

Heh. I'm from the raglan tribe myself. looks like an interesting book, thanks.


'how this all harbours light'