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Howard died as he had lived; in the throes of an enormous blood-beating tantrum, full of roaring sound and intimidating fury, but ultimately signifying nothing.
He had just discovered that his senile father Morris Frizzle had been catfished for several years by a Remuera based ex-Grammar boy who had purported to be a series of buxom and attractive distressed damsels in order to flense Morris of his not insubstantial investments and property. The proceeds had been largely hoovered up the ex-grammar boy’s capacious nose to the extent that he was currently in Thailand getting both nostrils re-sleeved, on a one-way ticket to nowhere extraditable.
Morris had actually gained considerable pleasure from his generous gifts to his imaginary paramours, and his senility protected him from the reality that they didn’t exist corporeally. He had a carefully filed memory bank of lascivious images generously provided by the ex-grammar boy, and had whiled away many happy hours in carnal reverie musing on the charms of Chelsea, Simone, Crystal, Gina, Cherie, et al.
Howard on the other hand had been itching to get his stubby digits on the remainder of Morris’s assets for decades, was now furious to learn they had been frittered away, and enraged at the dawning realisation that Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Social Development would be pursuing him to recover the property Morris had been cajoled into gifting Howard in a dubious transaction a decade past.
Reliable witnesses in the form of Howard’s daughters observed Howard stumping furiously towards their Grandpapa’s house, a menacing hulk breathing heavily through his mouth, fists clenching, scarlet faced, a knot of thick veins throbbing at his temples. His daughters were sitting at Morris’s dining room table playing ‘go fish’ with a rigged card deck belonging to the youngest as Howard errupted through the door. “For fuck’s sake Morris!!” Howard roared, which was water off a proverbial duck’s back for Morris, as Howard had been berating him thus since the tender age of seven. The daughters eyed Howard with wary disinterest, accustomed as they were to their father’s erratic outbursts and brain flatulence.
Howard lunged forward, grasped the table and upended it, sending the card game and Morris’s charging laptop flying, no mean feat, as the table was constructed like a brick shithouse and weighed a cool half tonne. “Dad” said the youngest reproachfully, “You really should CALM DOWN”.
She scrabbled on the floor at the pretence of collecting up her dodgy cards, but in reality was frantically calculating how to permanently disable her grandpapa’s laptop from her current position, as she had helpfully been the architect of Morris’s largesse to his fictitious female companions, because in recent years he had found the rigours of on-line banking byzantine and perplexing, and had sought her assistance, for a substantial and hard negotiated fee. Her fears were mainly groundless, as Howard had no ability to forensically examine Morris’s transactions, but the youngest was not one to leave stones un-turned.
As Howard lurched towards Morris she grabbed the laptop and hurled it discus-like, charger and all, towards the kitchen sink which was brim full of tepid fat-rimed water. It was sheer good fortune that she and her sister had failed to do their grandpapa’s meagre dishes yet again, despite it being their one daily chore for which they received generous pocket money. Howard spun around with the grace of a perambulating spud sack, hurled himself at the island bench, poised to plunge his hands into the grimy water, in pursuit of the object of his financial demise……………
In Morris’s latter years it had become his habit to live almost exclusively off toast, coated in a melange of improbable and experimental toppings. His current favourite was a combination of a particularly noxious Stilton, mashed banana, avocado, and just a sprinkle of ground black pepper. He had been in the throes of preparing a post-prandial snack when Howard so rudely intruded, and the vogels bread was still smouldering in the toaster, forgotten in the melee. It was sheer bad fortune for Howard that the ineptly hurled laptop collected the smoking toaster before it hit the water at the exact moment Howard reached triumphantly into the now live sink.
Some people will say that a plugged in toaster thrown into a sink full of water into which someone has plunged their hands is not fatal, but they are wrong in this instance. Howard fizzed and jigged like a marionette on the end of invisible strings. The youngest daughter strolled insouciantly to the kitchen and unplugged the toaster at the wall as Morris and the eldest daughter sat, mouths agape. Howard slumped, his bluster extinguished for all eternity. “Bugger!” exclaimed Morris peevishly.
“A new toaster with those settings will be at least $52 at Mitre10. Clumsy girl; I’m going to take that out of your remunerations!”
So it was that once again tragedy had struck the Cowball-Frizzle family. The daughters were still recovering from the death of their mother Lipid; they had found her unlovely corpse, if you recall, their father’s corpse was no prettier, and they were now faced with the unwelcome prospect of having toast-obsessed Morris resident, as their nominal guardian. The simpering child psychologist assigned them thought they might overcome their resentment and grieve more freely if they composed a eulogy for Howard to be read at his funeral, a modest affair owing to Howard’s lifelong ability to alienate his family and lord it over his friends. Unbeknownst, the youngest daughter wasn’t sad; she was living in mortal dread of the hand of authority rapping on the front door in the form of the local constabulary, and all the while the increasingly unhinged Morris was blackmailing her in return for his silence…..
The Eulogy for Howard Frizzle, as written by his daughters.
We are sorry you died, even though it definitely wasn’t our fault. For all your failings, at least you didn’t leave toast crumbs everywhere.
It would have been good if Grandpapa Morris hadn’t insisted on doing the home plumbing and electrical work that killed you, but he doesn’t like to take good advice from experts. He says he once set the kitchen wall on fire on Christmas Day when he decided to try and plumb in a dishwasher with an air-acetylene soldering torch, partly on a whim, but also to spoil the day for everybody else. Apparently he also used to leave live wires hanging from the kitchen ceiling for his own amusement, but that was before we were born.
He bought a new laptop with your life insurance money and has been dabbling in what he says is a cryptic currency called urethrum, and he says he has given up the floozies but he has his poker in a lot of fires. Speaking of fires we have to keep an eye on him because he accidentally sets fire to things quite a lot, like the net curtains, and an old pile of Mummy’s ‘Peace & Purpose’ magazines just last week. He is also refusing to pay us our remunerations for doing the dishes.
Speaking of Mummy, we hope you are reunited with her, and that in Heaven she lets you smoke cigarettes, and drink beer inside. We used to feel a tiny bit sorry for you standing outside in the rain and dark drinking beer all alone when you were both alive.
In art class at school we made a special drawing of you. Grandpapa Morris had it framed because he said the likeness is excellent and it’s how he will always remember you. We hope you like it.
Lipid died a well-deserved death, weighted down by an enormous shoulder chip, and face down in an invitingly poised jenga of dog ordure, after tripping carelessly on an overlooked raspberry cane which had snaked in from her mother-in-law’s long abandoned garden. The unfortunate combination of a large sweaty pair of ‘crocs’, a faux trug, secateurs sharpened to lethal points, and an enticing flourish of blooming gladioli led to her timely demise.
Regretfully for Lipid but fortunately for the rest of us, her daughters didn’t go outside and look for her for several hours, as they were enjoying an unaccustomed restful break from Lipid’s mania. On a normal day they were ferried between a giddying round of exhausting yet worthy activities, including an interpretive dance class performed in weighty anoraks and based around tragi-comic Brit-pop band Oasis’ greatest hits, choral caterwauling of the aforementioned Oasis songbook at the long suffering but blissfully deaf inmates of the local rest-home, weighted aerobic aqua-man swimming, and bandage-rolling for the local rabbit rescue.
Eventually hunger drove the girls outside in search of their mother, and they were nonplussed to find her twenty seconds from the house on a well marked path, desanguinated, and facially besmirched with still-moist dog turds. Their first reaction was to be enormously relieved that Lipid’s death meant they could avoid the underwater hockey class she had enthusiastically enrolled them in for the following term, until they realised their sole remaining parent was their father. Dismay quickly superceded relief.
A rapidly contrived game of rock, paper, scissors ensued to determine which of the girls would break the news to their father, Howard Frizzle, and the younger girl contrived to lose, for she had the least tact, and considered she may get a frisson of perverse pleasure as acting messenger. Howard took the news as well as could be expected, with loud displays of performative grief. Howard tried to blame everyone in the vicinity and many who were not in the vicinity for Lipid’s death, as was his wont. He finally settled on blaming his father, Morris Frizzle for the death, because if Morris hadn’t cruelly gifted Howard and Lipid the property, Lipid would never have died there. He then attempted to extort compensation for the opportunity cost by the death of his wife from his increasingly unhinged and bewildered parents. He failed, but not before he was fired by his own lawyer.
The coroner deemed Lipid died swiftly, but issued only a warning with regard to the wisdom of cultivating gladioli. The crocs, plasticised trug, unbagged dog faeces, and sharpened secateurs escaped official scrutiny.
Her epitaph as written by her offspring:
Lipid Cowball, our mummy dearest.
She met her timely end on a path well-trodden;
Her slapped arse face
will fade without trace,
Not missed & soon forgotten.
Always imaginative girls, they chose a novelty urn for their mother’s ashes which they felt best epitomised her persona and presence.
The purpose of the Tiny Museum Project was to introduce some challenging ideas about ecology, restoration, and conservation to people in a small island community in a subversive and unthreatening way. Plus we got together and had a pot-luck supper and a bit of a party. 🙂
The recent discovery of Vulvaris marjorieii was quite a shock to the marine biology community, as it appears this highly toxic species has been hiding in plain sight all along.
Unlike all other nudibranches Vulvaris marjorieii is not hermaphroditic, but unlike other nudibranches the male nudibranch tears it’s withered genitalia off after insemination, and presents them as a food gift to the female. It may be that this is an act of self-defence, as the female of species Vulvaris marjorieii is known to eat it’s offspring, so possibly this act of simpering capitulation is a life saver for the male. However, the male nudibranch has also been observed slavishly feeding their offspring to the female, so possibly it’s just a cannibalistic species.
Vulvaris marjorieii is a mistress of disguise, falsely presenting itself as palatable to other species and other nudibranches, whilst all the while secreting an extremely noxious toxin. The toxin calms it’s victims into a sensation of safety, so much so that the female Vulvaris marjorieii can often be seen surrounded by a larder of willing victims who have been lulled and gulled into her proximity.
The toxin secreted by Vulvaris marjorieii is dangerously venomous to humans. Do not be tempted to lick this nudibranch, no matter how appetising it may look! Short term exposure to it is likely to result in feelings of superiority, grandiosity, and even delusion, but long term exposure will just leave you weak and incapacitated, a victim of hubris.
If you need to lick something poisonous, you’d be better off slurping on a cane toad than this malignant marine mollusc.
In which the Intrepid & Fearless Buckbeak stands his ground against the relentless attempts at Intimidation and Harassment by Captain Arsehat. Buckbeak is in fact a boy, not a girl. Rube mistake by rank amateurs.
The first time we saw the kākā was in late Autumn of 2020. It was just on dusk post lock-down and we were wending our way down our driveway after visiting our local night market.
He was a high dark mark on the sky above us, distinguishable only by his joyous prehistoric skraarking. We jumped up and down screaming with sympathetic delight, because that is the effect kākā have when you realise they are in your suburban Auckland neighbourhood.
Kākā have been spreading out across the Auckland isthmus for a few years now, charming, charismatic winter visitors to bush-clad suburbs. The Auckland kākā belong to a flock originating from Hauturu Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, who after breeding migrate further afield to forage before returning to their island haunts in early spring to breed. .
It was a few weeks until he finally arrived in our backyard, a flurry of tui in his wake. He sat in the kanuka alongside our deck, fluting and cackling, and I rang my Dad, and held the phone out towards the tree so he could hear. I was gabbling with excitement.
One morning when I was lounging in bed I saw him land on the deck outside the window to investigate some apple left out for the waxeyes. I watched him delicately grasp a piece of fruit with his zygodactyl foot. He discarded it as beneath his dignity; apparently kākā have the exalted tastebuds of Roman emperors and only a platter of persimmons and peeled grapes will suffice for these patrician parrots. There are no luxury fruits available in the bush gully behind our house though; I think the kaka are attracted by the tall old-growth kanuka and tanekaha that provide an outlook, as well as sap to suck, and grubs to winkle. Kākā are adept at bark stripping kanuka in order to fossick out food.
The first time we had a truly close-up encounter with the kākā we had christened Randolph was when he suddenly landed in the tree outside my workshop and insouciantly climbed down using his leatherman beak and feet as grappling hooks before positioning himself on a slim branch perch to investigate the tui feeder. An agitation of swirling tui whirred and clicked in dismay as Randolph grabbed their drink container and gently tilted it, releasing a steady stream of liquid, much to their consternation.
We immediately observed that Randolph was a handsome bird, khaki/brown, a silver fox slick-down of whitish-grey feathers atop his head, a blush of copper on his cheeks, a flourish of brass behind his dark eyes, and a huge hooked slate-coloured beak. His impressive scaly talons grasped the branch and the container, and we had a brief flash of his red pantaloons. We don’t actually know if Randolph is a male or a female, because we haven’t seen him side by side with another kākā of a different sex. There is some sexual dimorphism in kākā, the females are slightly smaller, and the males heads and upper beaks are considerably larger.
Kākā are ‘deep endemics’ from the family Strigopoidea, an ancient group that split off from all other parrots millions of years ago. Kākā belong to the genus Nestor, along with the kea, and two extinct kākā, the Chatham Island kākā, and the Norfolk Island kākā. They have a close relative in the kakapo. I keep reading that kākā and kea species are claimed to be ‘primitive’ on the basis of their early departure from other parrot species, but really it means they are the most basal clade of parrots, taxonomically speaking. In simple terms this means because of the break up of Gondwanaland, they are a direct descendant of a proto-parrot, without the variety of divergence you see occurring in other parrot species. They are more distinct from all the other parrots than all the other parrots are from each other. However, because kākā and their fellow NZ parrots have adapted and specialised to the unique environment of the isolated islands they inhabit over a long time period, they are unlikely to have a close resemblance to their proto-parrot ancestor. That’s enough of the dry science for now though.
I took to keeping a diary of his visits. September was a busy month for backyard kākā sightings. He came almost every day, the earliest visit at 3.09 am, on Sept. 21, when he fluted intermittently through the early hours of the morning.
As I sleep lightly, I was able to keep track of when I heard his alarm clock fluting. A diary entry from Tuesday Sept. 15 reads :
5.58am- a joyous cackling skraak, & light fluting to the South
6.08am- considerable fluting
Other diary entries describe ‘exuberant clowning in the canopy’, and yet another says ‘Yesterday he flew past the ranch slider at low altitude – let loose a loud startling skraak which caused screams of fright – 1pm.’ Saturday Sept. 19 says 5.46am- a flurry of cackling skraaks to the south followed by querulous fluting. #skraakflutetseep.
There is a little ballpoint pen sketch of a kaka head adorning the page.
I developed a vocabulary of kaka sounds; skraaking, fluting (light, diminishing, or querulous), tseep-tseeping, cackle-hissing, gurgle-growling, gurgle-cackling, snarl-skraaking, and the curious WEE-do, which is almost an electronic noise. I recorded his chatter obsessively, and made videos of his visits. Randolph was unperturbed by the distraction he caused, and not alarmed by our interest in him. One exciting day Randolph had a friend fly in for a chatter. I have a recording of this event in which we are heard to exclaim excitedly “There’s two of them, TWO of them!”
A diary entry on Wednesday Sept. 23 states 8.30am- a kākā flew South past the bedroom window followed immediately by two large kākā who flew from the South & then wheeled down into the gully. No skraaking- a couple of light flutes. We worry about humans imprinting on wild animals, but I think the urban kākā imprint on humans.
Often Randolph’s visits were heralded by a pertubation of tui. I would glance out my workshop window and see an agitation formenting in the tall trees outside, tui blasting in from all directions and positioning themselves like spectators in a Roman ampitheatre. More often than not he would blithely ignore them, as he perched quietly high in a tree, calmly ring-barking small branches, his presence betrayed by seeds and bits of bark dropping to the ground from his ministrations. If he hopped down to investigate the tui feeder he was rewarded by messerschmitt attacks as tui took turns to swoop at him, executing last moment swerves.
When that became tiresome he would suddenly turn tail and freewheel down the gully flashing his brilliant red underthings, and skraaaking with mirth.
Kākā are omnivorous birds, with a diet consisting of fruit, berries, flowers, nuts, seeds, nectar, and small invertebrates and their larvae. They have long slender upper beaks for tearing bark, as well as brush-tipped tongues for sap-licking and nectar extraction. Their zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes forward and two toes backward, also give them the advantage of the equivalent of two opposable thumbs on each foot which are the perfect tools for grasping and climbing.
The combination of being a powerful flier and having a varied diet is that kākā can forage afar as various foods come into season. We note that Randolph disappears as soon as the kowhai start blooming in early Spring, and I start to see posts appearing on social media of kākā enjoying the yellow blossoms all over Auckland.
On one occasion a tui thwocked into my workshop window, a very uncommon occurrence, as they are accomplished fliers, whirring and gliding over and around the house frequently. He had knocked himself out cold, so I called Simon down to tend to him. As Simon bent over the tui, Randolph plonked suddenly down onto the branch above Simon’s head, curiously craning to see what was going on. I dislike anthropomorphising, but I had observed what appeared to be a reasonably good-natured chase going on earlier, tui beak to kākā butt and vice versa tearing at speed past the house, and wondered if the tui was an inadvertent victim of the game. The tui was fine after a few minutes quiet time in a cardboard box, and I doubt parrots feel much remorse.
It’s all fun and games till someone smashes into a window pane.
From Sunday Sept. 27 there are no kākā sightings recorded in my diary, just an sad little entry that says ‘The long silence 🙁 Have the kākā returned to Little Barrier?’ They returned for a brief visit in early October, but breeding season was in full swing on their Hauraki Gulf island strongholds, so we had no expectation of seeing them till winter of 2021.
Kākā have very specific requirements with regard to a suitable breeding nest. They prefer cavities in large old forest trees, at least 5 metres above the ground which they line with wood chips. The female lays a clutch of about four eggs which she incubates solely, and the male kākā brings her food.
Kākā evolved and adapted in an environment without mammalian predators, and under those conditions, being a cavity nesting Nestor was a good solution. Unfortunately the introduction of predator species has been disastrous.
The worst indicators for kākā success are the presence of stoats and possums.
From the time the eggs are laid till the time the chicks can fly is three to four months, which is a very long time for the female kākā to be vulnerable to predation. The high ratio of male birds to female birds is stark evidence that predator control is essential for kākā to flourish. Likewise, fledglings often fledge before they can fly or climb, so spend some time on the forest floor before being able to find safety in the treetops. This makes predator control of cats, stoats, and rats vital to ensure their survival.
Predator control has been proven to work in favour of kākā. The Pureora Forest Park in central North Island is a case in point; a fourfold increase in kākā in 20 years, from 640 in 2000 to 2600 in 2020. Even more exciting, the ratio of females to males has improved dramatically from 1:2.1 to almost 1:1! This is very promising for future population growth.
Kākā are still regarded as under threat though.
If kākā are visiting in your neighbourhood, or a suburb nearby, the most efficacious things you can do to encourage them and make their environment safe is to trap assiduously for rats, mustelids, and possums, and plant the native trees they love for food and habitat. Most areas in New Zealand have volunteer groups that trap, weed, and plant. Every effort helps, no matter how small it may seem.
Randolph and friends reappeared this year, earlier than last year, but they also departed earlier. I haven’t heard or seen a kākā since September 20 when Randolph dropped in for a raucous chat. I’m hoping they appear for one final visit, but if not, I’m confident of their return in winter of 2022.
This is a piece I made a few years ago. It was for a mapping project, and whilst I was very happy with the way my QR code worked so well, ultimately the project failed, because so few people knew what a QR code was, let alone had the means to read it with their smartphones.
It was a fraught piece to make, because I had no idea if it would work until it was finished. I was overjoyed when it did. I made it using very simple techniques. I cut out tiny pieces of metal and riveted them to a base of silver. No solder was used. I wanted to make something as low-tech as possible that linked to something very hi-tech; a smartphone app that connected the user to a website page.
The technical person who configured the mapping project is unconvinced that QR codes will work effectively to trace covid-19 contacts. It’s not sufficiently passive to succeed, as action is required at every step; you must download an app before your smartphone can read a code that the business has actively placed in their premises. There will not be QR codes every single place you go. Worst of all, the app doesn’t tell you if there is a connection between you and a person with covid-19. Not yet…
Alternately, contact tracing geo-spacially using the in-built GPS system of your smartphone would be passive, and direct.
Diagram of how contact tracing could work using GPS