Back-to-work blues

by Fiona Rae / 28 January, 2012
Joanne Black is despondent after a holiday.

• I have arrived home from holiday to have the shroud of annual despondency settle on me. Although I like my job, my house and my neighbourhood, and even once memorised a Lauris Edmond poem about Wellington, 2012 from my perspective seems more like an endurance test to come than a new year of hope and promise.

I have no reason to feel this way. My life savings aren’t invested in Greek Government bonds, and I’m not an Iranian nuclear scientist whose life expectancy will be determined by a Mossad agent on a motorbike. Instead, I have a happy family, good health and nice friends, and even in my most avaricious moments, I acknowledge there are no greater riches in life than these. So, why this despondency?

I have to admit it – holidays are bad for my mental health. It takes me longer to get over a holiday than it does to be on one. I do not subscribe to the view that life would be boring without a job. I do, however, believe life could become dull without an income. Unfortunately, in my case the two are directly related – to live I have either to work or steal, and my honesty rules out crime. No wonder I feel depressed.

• As with the sight of the Rena in the Bay of Plenty, there is something shocking about pictures of the huge Costa Concordia lying on its side off the Italian island of Giglio. It is akin to images of beached whales or crashed aircraft – big entities that are awe-inspiring when functioning in their right environment, but helpless and out of place ­when things go wrong.

It has been suggested the Costa Concordia captain took his ship in close either to show it off to tourists on land, or to show the island to his passengers. In the end, both groups got a far closer view than anyone intended. In fact, like the Norwegian island of Utoya, scene of last year’s horrific shooting massacre, Giglio is a speck that most of the world would never have heard of, let alone been able to place on a map, if not for the disaster that has unfolded there. Even PR people who spend their careers dreaming of global publicity for their tiny tourist havens would probably agree that sometimes anonymity is preferable.

• What a load of tosh has been written about Ben Hama, Wellington’s “Blanket Man” since his recent death. “You were an inspiration to us all,” said one placard, erected near one of the sections of city gutter where Hama languished for much of the latter part of his life. He provided a salutary lesson, perhaps, of what can happen when alcoholism goes untreated (you die), but an inspiration? For whom? There has been some ridiculous stuff said about how he lived life his own way, as though he modelled an alternative lifestyle for those of us caught in the tentacles of a nine-to-five job and a burdensome mortgage. Freedom may be a way of describing living filthy and sick on the street, suffering from substance abuse and malnutrition, with a long criminal record and at constant risk of being run over, but it is unlikely to be what most of us have in mind when we think of breaking free.

A local reporter described him as iconic, but tragic is a better word. Homelessness did not appear to be the root cause of Hama’s demise. Rather, it was a symptom of his manifold problems. Mostly, he represented the inability of social support and health services to deal with difficult cases, and the inability of some people to know when or how to accept the help they are offered. He was a visible manifestation of a problem that is often hidden. If we are to credit him with any achievement, it should be a reminder that although he has gone, the problem has not.


Joanne Black chose to write about Ben Hana from her perch of “a happy family, good health and nice friends”.
I talked with Ben when he began sleeping on the street many years ago. He had quite a following and believed that people had a right to sleep on the streets, safely. That, he said, was his purpose – to fight for this. I watched him deteriorate as fewer friends dropped by, and he succumbed to squalor, alcohol and substance abuse over several years.
He stuck to his guns, though, and proved one could live on the street. To me, he was a constant reminder of human frailty – pricking at my conscience – and representing thousands of others who have thrown in the towel and are living private lives of despair and deprivation.
Heather Mulholland
(Pt Howard, Lower Hutt)

Black writes about Ben Hama (sic). Ben Hana was the mentally ill man who lived on Wellington’s streets. Let’s not forget him, but please also give him the final dignity of spelling his name correctly.
Helen Carver
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