As Rebecca and I renovate our old wooden house we’re turning up some interesting, disgusting, objects. Most impressive is this beautifully mummified creature which was preserved in the gap between the building’s inner and outer walls, and looks a lot like one of Jim Henson’s Skeksi creatures from the Dark Crystal movie.
I figure it has to be the remains of a baby sparrow which fell out of the nest and couldn’t get back in – we found a massive ball of ancient nest material, added to and compacted every year as the birds made a fresh home – so it could be anywhere from 5 – 105 years old.
We also found a collection of tiny playing cards, which left me deeply tempted to construct the kind of charming, creepy tableux that taxidermists get into when they get old and weird. You know the sort of thing – whole families of stuffed squirrels waterskiing and reading books – except this one would be a scene from a dogs-playing-poker painting, but with tiny Skeksi sparrows, and I was getting all excited planning the photoshoot when I realised my mummified model had been stolen by the cat, who proceeded to treat it like a ball of Dark Crystal beef jerky…
Probably the most interesting find inside the walls of our tiny kauri cottage, though, was a complete copy of the Auckland Star newspaper from 1977, the year of my birth.
Thirty years later I would end up working for the same paper, now called the Sunday Star-Times, and the crazy thing is that one of my bosses there – the lovely Donna Chisholm, who was deputy editor in my time – was already writing for the paper in 1977. She worked continuously for the company from the day she started and is now editor at large of North & South and Metro magazines where she produces probably the best long-form investigative journalism in the country at the moment.
Anyway, what strikes you most about reading a crinkly, yellowing 34-year-old paper (when you’re a crinkly, yellowing 34-year-old) is how little things change.
Mexico, says a headline, has been rocked by a wave of violence and kidnappings; Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have reached a stalemate; Aucklanders are sweating as the cost of living goes up, and – get this – a guest editorial moans about how “progressives” treat criminals as victims and victims as criminals, when what we need is to get tough on crime and punishment…
Man. On the front page there’s even a photo-caption story from Auckland zoo about a sick kiwi with a cute name being fed a rich diet of worms as she’s coaxed back to health. Now, this is just nutty, but I’ve just got home from a late shift sub-editing at the NZ Herald, where, well… let’s just say I hope you enjoy tomorrow’s heart-warming flightless bird news…
The more things change, huh