On friendship and giving back what you receive

This isn’t a problem I’ve had before: I have too many friends. The problem is that, being broken, I tend to like other people who are broken, who can relate to each other and not get impatient because they don’t understand why we can’t always do the things normal people can. Some breaks are bigger than others, of course, but most of us have cracks somewhere.

Just, when you put so many broken people together, someone’s probably always going to be having trouble. And this is the bit that really bothers me, because so often I want to do more to help than I know I can, and self-care means that sometimes I don’t even reply to tweets, which leads to feeling that I’m doing nothing for anyone. A few times I’ve felt like commenting on this but always it’s been soon enough after someone else’s hurt that it will look too much like a subtweet.

I’m not really looking for anything on this – mostly I’m procrastinating on finishing adding all my files to Zotero because jesus fuck why do I have so many and my back hurts from Daisy knocking me into the door. So now I’m going to eat free chocolate and maybe read for a while.

The All New, Best Ever, Famous Pancakes

Man, I love desserts. I expect a lot of people do. I don’t even see the point in a restaurant that doesn’t have a good dessert menu and I think there should be more restaurants that are just… all day dessert. Even aside from that, baking, awesome. You can probably tell from the bread and the scones and the ginger biscuits I have in the oven. And while the internet is FANTASTIC for that, I have some really strong opinions on the shit you can find.

Like, eggs. Why the hell do two different ingredients come in one container that you have to smash to get open and can’t close again? I’ve seen recipes that call for nine egg yolks, and no whites. What’s with that?? Sure, I could find a couple more recipes that only use whites, but what if I only want one dessert? Then there’s recipes that want half an egg. Half an egg. Again, these are not resealable bags here (and also eggs are really hard to split in half). Unless you’re specifically making a single serve mug cake, just double the damn recipe or gtfo with this half an egg crap.

While we’re on recipes, I have yet to see any recipe with only two ingredients. I’ve seen things that claimed to be recipes. But “a packet of muffin mix” and “lemonade” is not a recipe. That’s putting lemonade in your shitty prebought muffin mix. And while mixing golden syrup into vanilla ice cream is delicious, it’s also not a recipe. Even if you manage to find two actual ingredients that go together, it’s still not a recipe, it’s [x] and [y]. “Oh, what are you eating?” “Frozen banana and peanut butter.” Pretty much your only excuse for using a finished product in a recipe is if the recipe has several different parts, like an elaborate dessert that layers caramel, posset with chunks of meringue in it, panna cotta, sponge, and jelly. In that case you’re totally welcome to just buy the meringue and make the caramel by heating an unopened can of condensed milk, or you’ll be there forever. Otherwise all you’re doing is plating your food creatively.

I won’t have a moan about recipe names, just to shock you. To be fair, they are hard to name. I do think “all new”, “best ever” and “famous” are a bit overused, but I can’t talk about using names since our favourite chocolate cake is called Linda’s sticky chocolate cake. Do I have the faintest clue who Linda is? Hell no. Does she make a damn fine cake? Hell yes.

And now the smell of ginger is wafting through the house, meaning my biscuits are just about ready. Mmmmm biscuits.

Medical hypocrisy

I may have another post later, but for now, an article is going round about a doctor who refuses to prescribe birth control to his patients. There are two versions, one pretty well reported one in the Herald and another shorter one in Stuff’s Lifestyle section, because the decision to use a particular type of medicine is a lifestyle, not a decision about your health, financial means, employment situation, stability or emotional ability to commit to a child. There are some choice quotes from the doctor in both versions, such as how he won’t give the pill to women unless they are using it between pregnancies or have already had four children and thus realised their reproductive destiny. Instead he recommends the rhythm method, which is perfect because it’s got a huge failure rate, and does this for patients as young as sixteen. (He doesn’t prescribe condoms, either.) Legally, he has to instead refer patients to another doctor who will prescribe birth control, but the woman who brought this man to the media’s attention says that he was quite reluctant to do so and she had to stand up for herself pretty forcefully for him to give in.

There are a few facets to this. Firstly is the fact that doctors are authority figures that can be very difficult for people to argue with. Even grown ups who are pretty gutsy in other areas of their lives may be hesitant to stand their ground in a situation like this, especially considering the baggage society places on sex, especially for women. It’s pretty easy for someone to walk away from a doctor’s appointment feeling completely shamed, even if objectively they don’t believe the moral line the doctor’s been laying on them. (This is also a problem for LGBT, overweight patients, mental illness, etc.)

Secondly, this is different from a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription, which is something that is also pretty shitty. Doctors appointments cost money – it doesn’t cost you to walk into a pharmacy and hand over a prescription. If you live in a city (which not everyone does, and in both situations this might be the only doctor or pharmacist within reasonable transport distance), it’s a lot easier to try a different pharmacy than to try a different doctor. Just yesterday we were discussing the costs of GP visits, after another article was published about the increasing numbers of people going to emergency departments for things that a GP ought to be responsible for. My doctor in Christchurch charged me about $45 a visit, with a community services card. Some low cost services are more like $15, but the pressure placed on them by the huge need means that they’re stretched beyond capacity and some may have to close. There are doctor’s clinics that will charge more than $70 for someone who isn’t actually enrolled. The cost of health insurance premiums that cover GP visits might not be worth it even if you go regularly, like I do. A lot of people simply cannot afford to try different doctors until they find one who’ll give them the prescription, and while they may well ask the receptionist at the later clinics before bothering to make the appointment (though this can be fraught too if you’ve just been made to feel like a massive whore for daring to have sex with your fiance while not being in a place where you’re ready to start having kids), they probably won’t think of it the first time, because we like to assume that New Zealand is a pretty progressive country.

Finally, the thing that most baffles me is why birth control is so fucking special. Aren’t doctors there specifically to thwart god’s will in the first place? Presumably he treats other medical conditions, right? What if it’s someone’s destiny to have crippling arthritis or terrible acne or a life-threatening disease? Why is it okay to save lives, but not to prevent them? Particularly because if someone finds they can’t get birth control and so chooses not to have sex, and doesn’t slip or anything, that seems like more of a problem than birth control. Birth control fails. I know tons of people who were conceived through at least one form of birth control, including me. If god really wanted me to get pregnant, I’m pretty sure the fact that I’m not having PIV sex with a fertile cis male and haven’t done so in about eight years is a hell of a lot more of a problem than the fact that I take birth control pills to avoid dealing with periods.

What wild, spurious accusations

As an initial hilariously awful note, I realised I should find out who my local MP is now. It used to be Ruth Dyson, who votes the right way on things and also turned out to be unexpectedly awesome when I started following her Twitter, but now I’m on the northern edge of the Ōhariu electorate – that’s right, Peter Dunne. Peter Dunne is actually, seriously my local MP. I’m really not quite sure what to do with this knowledge.

My main point, though, is that if you’re going to argue with someone, you should probably know something about them before you start making personal attacks. Like, you should probably know whether they struggle with disability, live on well below the minimum wage and have a lengthy history of involvement with community organisations before you say that they’ll never be as qualified as Paula Bennett because they don’t work hard enough, got all their knowledge out of a book and have no real life experience. For example. Relatedly, I spent half of this morning practically crying with laughter as Tau Henare flailed madly attempting to make an insult stick.

Now, sure, I’m not that badly off. I have safety nets and I know how to navigate bureaucracy, though whether I have the energy to is another matter. I grew up in a stable household, went to good schools and got a pretty good secondary education, which are things that are not accessible to everyone, and I’m extremely lucky in that regard. But when I was a wet behind the ears middle class eighteen year old, my higher education goals were Classical Studies and English, not Māori Studies and Social Policy. I imagine very few well off people with no life experience choose social policy as a field (backed up by conversations with classmates on the forums and contact courses), so if I were to try to insult someone who I know studies it, that would really not be my first choice. Mind you, “do-gooder” and “you read books” aren’t exactly my top choices in insult either, so clearly I’m already coming at this from a different place than Tau.

It says something, though, that an MP for the governing party thinks like this. Not only is he willing to get into an argument that involves personal attacks against members of the public, the attacks themselves are very, very revealing. If you think education and wanting to do good are bad things, what does that say about what you think is good? If you have to ask people how something affects them to understand why they don’t like it, how much does it reveal about your own priorities? Shouldn’t the government be concerned about how policy affects everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, and shouldn’t they educate themselves about the ramifications? It’s not even as though they’d have to do much work – there are private citizens and interest groups putting in incredibly detailed submissions about these bills that explain exactly what negative impact it could have. But over the last couple of years there have been numerous bills passed that have had overwhelming opposition at the select committee stage, including some that have had well over 99% of submissions opposed, at least one where the only submission in favour was from the Police, and currently the GCSB bill which is strongly opposed even by the Human Rights Commission.

Bring on the budget

Well, I’ve been doing this complete financial independence thing for a few weeks now and it’s going pretty well – halfway through the week I still have $80 in my main account because I haven’t had to buy much in the way of groceries yet. (And, tbh, I haven’t left the house for a couple of days due to the rain.) Some of that I’ll want to put onto my credit card though, which I used on Monday to pay the service fee for my broken computer, thanks dogs.

Some things I’ve already discovered which none of the budgeting sites ever hinted at:

- My breadmaker? Probably the best investment I’ve made. The price of ingredients per loaf is miniscule, I can make fancy flavours of bread without paying a premium, and I’m excited about eating it, with or without spreads. Mostly without, though I did pick up some honey.
- Porridge is basically the perfect breakfast. It’s filling and warm and really, really cheap.
- Milk, not so cheap. I used to drink it all the time, now it’s basically restricted to an ingredient in my favourite bread and poured on my porridge in the morning. Fuck milk, man. Things to drink, I’ve found, is actually a bit of a sticking point, though I’d noticed this well before I moved. There’s very little that’s both cheap and healthy except for tap water. The cheapest thing is fizzy or powder cordial (especially since growing up we mixed it with twice the recommended amount of water), the healthiest is probably either milk or the really good juices, or possibly drinking yoghurt. Really, while we have a huge range of decent food, there isn’t as much of a choice in drinks. Probably no wonder that coffee is so popular, though I can’t stand it personally.
- Wellington’s public transport is shit expensive. I mean, part of that is because it’s crammed into whatever little valleys and hilltops it can so there are some long distances that Christchurch just doesn’t have to deal with, but only part of it. I’ve only seen one mention of transfer tickets that specified it HAD to be used for literal transfers – the ticket would only apply to the next bus you could catch, rather than the two hours Christchurch buses give you. To be able to travel on any public transport at the cardholder price, I’d need three different cards – Snapper for the really central buses, one for TranzMetro, and one for the Mana/Newlands buses that I take to go to J-ville or Porirua. There’s no daily or weekly fare limit – in Christchurch you only ever have to spend two fares in a day and five days of that in a week – a single fare on Metrocard is $2.30 (the long distances metro buses out to Rangiora etc are $3.30), so that’s a weekly limit of $23. Anything past that is free. I could easily spend $23 by going to the zoo twice in Wellington! So, it’s a REALLY good thing that there’s a decent supermarket at the bottom of the hill, well within walking distance, and I don’t have to add bus fares onto my grocery trips. Especially since I can only buy in any trip what I’m able to carry up the hill afterwards.

That makes a lot of sense

So today in Question Time there were a few questions about homelessness. It’s timely – the Big Sleep Out is on, and Auckland council has apparently banned begging (or vagrancy, it’s not entirely clear which). What’s interesting is something Nick Smith said in his answer/s: namely, that the government doesn’t consider people to be homeless if they’re living in a night shelter.

I’m not surprised by this at all. It matches my conversation with Housing New Zealand back in June, when they told me that they wouldn’t even assess me until I’d spent two weeks in Wellington with no home, simply because they asked if I knew anyone in the city and I said yes. I was expected to crash on other people’s couches until then, I guess, which I wasn’t particularly happy about – Gravey and Kristina were awesome in letting me stay there for four nights, which isn’t even close to two weeks, and after that I went to a hostel. But according to the government, I wasn’t homeless.

To be clear, this isn’t the actual definition of homelessness. Primary homelessness refers to people who are sleeping rough, but that’s only about 17% of the homeless population. Secondary homelessness is the other 83% – people who have some kind of roof over their head because they’re couch surfing, in a shelter, a hostel, a motel, etc. If you’ve seen The Price of Happyness (sic), Will Smith’s character spends quite a lot of time living in a motel – by proper counting, he was homeless all through that movie, but not according to our government.

This is why they don’t call it houselessness, guys. The problem is a lack of secure housing. Night-by-night or even week-by-week accommodation doesn’t cut it – you can never put down roots or acquire anything you can’t transport easily. You don’t have a home. Chances are you don’t have a kitchen, let alone a laundry, and that’s a big problem because it’s adding to your costs in a huge way if you can’t cook your own food and have to pay laundromat prices to get your clothes clean. Even some of the bedsits I looked at on TradeMe lacked facilities in that way – one of them boasted a “kitchen” that was a metal bench with a sink and a microwave, and a couple of shelves above it. It might be legal to rent or sell accommodation in that manner (from what I recall it needs to have “a means of cooking food”) but to me a kitchen has to come with an oven (and preferably a fridge/freezer, but I’d be more okay about getting my own there). Several of them didn’t have laundries, though some of them were part of complexes with shared laundries. They tended to also have their own bathrooms, unlike share houses, boarding houses, hostels, backpackers and some cheaper motels, which is a huge plus on the hygiene front, especially if you have kids or disabilities.

Simply put, focusing only on primary homelessness is just plain wrong. It’s shortsighted and does nothing to address the lack of secure housing itself, which is the real problem. Sleeping rough is worse than couch surfing, etc, there’s no argument there, but moving people off the streets and into shitty temporary accommodation doesn’t fix anything.

Honey, I’m home

I haven’t been online much because I still don’t have stable internet and mobile data’s expensive, but I have moved into my new flat and started settling in! While it’s exciting it’s also a little boring. Oh, internet, I miss you. Still, I’m working on getting the things that would have been too expensive to bring up or that I didn’t actually have because someone else in my family did, and I’ve been making friends with the dogs, and I’ve been practicing walking up the hill. (It’s only three blocks or so, but I’m not that fit and the shops are at the bottom.) Tawa is sort of a nice place though. There is lots of native birdsong to listen to and this morning I spotted a tūī in the tree on the corner, right in the lower branches. There’s quite a few little bakeries and things though I’m trying to be really good with my grocery shopping and so far succeeding. Also I have a breadmaker arriving soon, possibly tomorrow. For serious shops like electronics stores or the Warehouse I have to go to Porirua or J’ville, or right into the city, but that’s pretty much like in Christchurch anyway, just the bus stop is like four whole blocks away instead of one or two. Alternatively, internet shopping.

At some point I’ll do an inventory of the kitchenware and staples like flour because with the cold weather I keep feeling an urge to bake. Scones! Gingernut biscuits! Cinnamon wheels! I don’t even know if there’s oven trays! I’m rediscovering the joy of porridge for breakfast/brunch/lunch though, with brown sugar sprinkled on top and milk poured in carefully at the edges to make the porridge separate from the bowl. Yum. I’m sort of doing about two meals a day, but once I get the baking sorted I’ll be able to have stuff I can snack on, which is pretty much my natural eating pattern – one or two large-ish meals and grazing in between. In fact in a little while I’ll have a look at doing some cheesy pasta with salami for dinner and my last pear for dessert.

Life Choices Edition

In the end I didn’t actually look at any places in Lower Hutt itself. Instead I’m choosing between the converted hospital share house in Berhampore and a flat in Tawa, which both have pros and cons. Like, the room in Berhampore is much, much bigger than Tawa – perhaps twice the size – and a basin in the room makes it easy to refill my water bottle, but Tawa is homier and also has dogs, plus less running into strange people I don’t know, because Berhampore has 42 rooms. (Admittedly the room they’re holding while I decide is on the ground floor, which has its own kitchen and bathrooms, I think she said they were shared among either 9 or 11 rooms.) Berhampore’s more secure for mail delivery, and there’s a bus stop literally right outside. Like, you go out the door and walk down the driveway and that’s it, there are no more directions because you’re already there. But while Tawa is further out which is in itself both good and bad, I don’t know how often I’ll actually be coming into Wellington proper, since Tawa has a lot of its own shops including nice bakeries and outlet stores and things. Tawa doesn’t have a dryer but otoh I don’t have to pay to do laundry – at Berhampore it’s $2 for the washing machines and $4 for dryers.

Ultimately though, last night I was listening to the wind and thinking, where would I rather be right now? And that sort of made it easier, because yeah, in horrid weather like that when it’s cold and there may or may not be power cuts and, you know, roofs being blown off, I think I’d rather be in an actual house rather than a big sterile (but awesome) old hospital building. And also dogs.

It’s all about budgeting, sure.

So, an update on my big move. I’d contacted a Wellington organisation for mentally ill people that runs a service helping them get into housing – or rather, ran, because as they said when they got back to me, they had their funding cut. For relevance, my most significant barrier here is telephone use. It’s one of the things my social phobia really interferes with (and if I have APD that might explain a little of it), so I was hoping they could help me get around that. No can do. Luckily most tenancy agencies operate on the internet (the major exception is Housing New Zealand who demand you phone them) and I’ve applied for two places. The first one is more expensive but I like it a lot more – it’s closer to town, it has much better transport and shopping options, it’s a bit bigger (one bedroom flat rather than a bedsit), and also just shallowly the bathroom is kind of a cool colour. The agent for this one has replied saying that when I head up, email them to let them know, and if no one has taken it they’ll take me through. It’s two more weeks, and it’s been available since May 23, so hopefully it stays open. The second one I just sent in the form today, and they asked for a lot more references, some of which I couldn’t supply, and my current employer, which I don’t have (though I put who I did work for until recently and said I left in March to study), but hopefully if I don’t get the first one I can still get the bedsit anyway.

After sorting out housing, the next problem is utilities. To be honest, I don’t need a phone line. For starters, see above: I hate phones. I rarely use them and when I do need to I can use my mobile, which is prepaid because I rarely use that either. Internet, however, immediately gets trickier. Dial up needs a phone line and while it sounds cheap at first – unlimited for $10 a month?? – suddenly you find out that phone lines are now twice again as expensive as the last time you had one, $45 rather than $30, and now dial up isn’t that much cheaper than broadband, actually. Because broadband’s best deal for a medium user looks to be about $70-75 a month with a 30gb cap. Naked broadband actually isn’t much better – Vodafone does it for $55, but only if you also have a Vodafone mobile plan. I don’t have any mobile plan, it’s not cost effective. Without it, it’s another $30. Slingshot’s naked broadband is $81 for 50gb, which is cheaper by gb than the other plans, but I don’t know whether I really need the extra 20gb. Either way, I’m looking at $17-20 a week for something that I actually quite need for my study. Without it I’d need to use free wifi in cafes or the Wellington CBD, which may almost cost me that much anyway for transport and buying things so I’m not going in every day sitting there not eating their stuff for a rather inferior product. Now, Vodafone does offer cable broadband without a phone line for $55.95 (60gb) which doesn’t mention requiring a mobile plan, so that’s something to look into – just under $15/wk! But for now I’m going to count internet as a $20/wk expense just to be safe. Obviously power is the second most important utility, and on top of those three things (rent, internet, power) I’m starting to have not much left for food, transport and medical.

Well, we’ll see. I do have a chunk of money for initial outlay so if I’m careful to get a good duvet and an efficient as possible method of heating I’ll be able to keep power down, at least, but it sure is bringing home just how tight things can get. Maybe I’ll come up with a way to supplement my income with crafts or something.