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Letters from the Southern Man

Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. 

Understanding New Zealand is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our weekly Southern Man blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.

A Seismic 7 Days

Posted by Iain on Nov. 18, 2016, 4:01 p.m. in Living

I wasn’t sure whether to write this week about the seismic geological events in New Zealand or the seismic political ones in the USA.

Are we sick of listening to and reading about Trump yet? I am. While I still struggle to understand it, it is real. Let’s watch him back down on all the big noise he made while campaigning (wire fence anyone?).

I’m certainly over the well-intentioned but 'wide of the geographical mark' emails of earthquake induced sympathy for us all here in New Zealand that I’ve been receiving this week.

My crew and I have been swamped by emails from people sharing their ‘thoughts and prayers for all New Zealanders and their families’ after the ‘deadly’ earthquake in the north east corner of the South Island earlier this week. It’s nice but it is overkill.

In a world of sensationalist headlines and reporting as a hungry 24/7 news cycle needs to be fed, I cannot believe the attention it has got. Sure, the earthquake was a biggie but earthquakes are nothing new to people who live in parts of the South Island or the lower North Island. It all happened in the middle of nowhere; in thinly populated areas. In fact, here in Auckland we didn’t even know there had been one till we turned on the radio or got news 'alerts' on our cellphones hours after the event. The epicentre was 1000 kilometres away, so perhaps it is no wonder.

Two people died. One of a heart attack and one when his rickety old house collapsed. Sad, to be sure, but it was two people.

Without wishing to sound heartless, two people also died in car crashes last weekend here but I don’t recall it being reported in either the BBC or CNN.

But that’s the news cycle for you. If the death was spectacular enough it makes it onto the global news feed. 

Some pretty interesting things happened though which are worth sharing. Campbell Point in the northern part of the South Island is this week 2 meters closer to the equator than it was this time last week. That’s quite some forces at play! There are also places along the coast where the seabed is now two meters higher than it was last week – to the extent it is not actually seabed anymore but ‘land’. Pretty amazing stuff. People have been wandering along collecting paua (abalone) and crayfish off the rocks. It is like a sashimi buffet!

So that’s our earthquake, now what about America's? 

On the US election I have pondered if it might be possible that New Zealand could elect someone like Trump.

My view is 'highly unlikely' for a number of reasons. We don’t have a two party system dominating any longer and neither can either one ever govern alone without smaller ‘support parties’. 

Further, we elect our Politicians on the basis of a proportional representation system. In this way we have far more diverse voices and world views represented in our Parliament. Those with ‘radical’ views tend to fester and get largely ignored in a system like the United States where two broad ‘churches’ of political thought exist. 

In such systems, one is more likely to see the rise of the radical like Trump appealing to a group (in this case it seems a very large group) of voters who feel they are being left behind and their voices not heard (which makes you wonder if Bernie Sanders could actually have been the better candidate for the Democratic Party but that’s another story).

Here, following the implementation of Mixed Member Proportional representation or MMP as we call it, the big parties splintered and we have got parties of the middle, the left and the right. We have a Maori Party and we have the Greens, all in a Parliament together. All political and economic voices can find a home.

The fact that we have a small and (largely) homogenous population where our view points are not radically different to one another through the sharing of predominantly similar values means someone like Trump is less likely to get anywhere near the levers of power.

Issues like abortion are simply not the issues here as they are in the US. A woman’s body is hers. Nor guns – we cannot carry them and nor do our police. 

Our Governments do react however to ‘noise’ from these ‘one issue’ parties and deflect the political threat. As regular readers will be aware, the Government here recently made a big media deal about changing immigration settings and told the country they were cutting numbers (that was not really true but that’s not the point). This was, I have no doubt, as a direct result of focus groups and polls showing an increasing disquiet not with migrants per se but the indirect effect of larger numbers of people coming to live here (or returning home) and pressure on infrastructure, schooling, hospitals and of course house prices. 

And not to be ignored a rise in popularity of our own ‘NZ First’, political party supported by grumpy old people who want New Zealand to return to some mythical dream time (I think it was around 1970 apparently) when migrants were British and the England still wanted to buy our butter and lamb.

So our political system has release valves that a two party system doesn’t seem to have and this means sitting Governments try harder it seems to me to ensure that all citizens share the benefits of an economy doing well and are looked after better when it is not. And more ‘radical’ views are listened to and acted upon. America might like to try it. Bernie Sanders out there on the far left. Hilary Clinton (allegedly) and Obama on the centre left, most Republicans centre right and the Tea Party way further to the right. (Not really sure where Trump’s natural home is when the typical Bernie Sanders voter seem to have voted for Trump).

We have all those political leanings in our Parliament yet we tend to swing quietly from core centre left to core centre right with a sprinkling of the fringe to make up any given Government. Tails don’t wag dogs but ‘minority’ views get a look in here. They can effect change.

To be clear I am not saying we do not have inequality like I have witnessed in the US on my visits there, but recent international surveys show New Zealand is far less unequal (if that is anything to be proud of) than most developed western democracies – and certainly the United States.

So could a Trump rise to power here? Thankfully I think the chances are very slim. Equally a Hilary Clinton would be seen for what she really appears to be as well.

Our own occasional rare but big seismic events tend to be geological, more than political.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man 

Tags: trump | earthquake

What is the real cost of living?

Posted by Iain on April 22, 2016, 7:51 p.m. in Living

I am often asked by those looking to move what the cost of living is in New Zealand.

Some data out this week is somewhat insightful.

Inflation for the year has come in at 0.4% largely caused through significant increases in tobacco taxes as further disincentive to smoke.

Interest rates on mortgages/bonds have continued to fall. The cheapest deals in town right now are around 4.1% with the average 12 month fixed term somewhere around 4.3%.

There was talk of further interest rate cuts this year but with annual inflation creeping up a little the bets are now more evenly split on ‘holding’. Economic growth has come in around 2.5% for the past 12 months.

We have the lowest tax rates in the OECD (rich countries club) – my Singaporean clients will be pleased to learn. Wages are fairly static as a result of all this.

Anyone with a mortgage (about one third of households only) have actually had a rise in their disposable income this past 12 months as mortgage rates have fallen to levels not seen in over 60 years. Virtually no inflation for the past few years has helped with this.

Most of our clients, irrespective of where they come from are neither poor nor wealthy (although we have a few) and fall squarely into the ‘married, mortgaged, middle class with two children and a dog’ camp. It is to them we speak at our seminars even though our audiences (and clients) also feature young singles, older parents and those without children.

This makes it quite hard to quantify ‘average’ cost of living given all the variables on both sides of the equation – where migrants come from, the exchange rate and whether it favours them (UK and US) or not (South Africa and Malaysia) or is about the same (Singapore) and how they might choose to live in New Zealand and of course, where, with Auckland being expensive by NZ standards and Dunedin cheap.

As a general rule we talk about a family of four needing to earn around $4500- $5500 after tax per month in Auckland to live a dignified middle socio-economic existence out in the suburbs. This requires a pre-tax annual income per household of between $65,000 and $80,000. Most of our clients will be earning that with one income earner given the average Auckland salary is $75,000 before taxation.

Renting or paying off a three bedroom, 200 square metre home (cost around $800,000 - $900,000) with a 20% deposit is likely to cost around $2500 per month based on current interest rates. To feed and clothe a family of four, another $1200 or so, $700 for insurances, utilities, cellphones, petrol and the like take up the bulk of the rest.

There are no luxuries in that. Once both partners are out working the household gross usually increases to at least $100,000 adding around $2500 - $3000 a month in the hand. Outside of Auckland you can generally shave around 25% off that monthly cost given the insanity of Auckland house prices is not shared (yet) by these other cities.

I have been in Cape Town the past few days and cannot believe I can buy a cup of coffee (hideous coffee I should add, what is wrong with this otherwise hip city that you cannot get decent coffee?) for $2.90. In Auckland $4.50 minimum. My wife and I have been able to eat well for $100 in some quite nice restaurants. I’d expect to pay 50% more in Auckland. The cost of wonderful wine in this city is so low I’d be a certified alcoholic in short order if I lived there.

Of course we get a lot for our taxes as compared countries like Singapore and South Africa – by and large ‘free’ education of world standard through to University and heavily subsidised thereafter. Our health is more or less covered through our taxes without expensive or compulsory medical insurance. Our family has a surgery and specialist cover just to avoid potential lengthy public hospital waiting lists (although I see the waiting list for varicose veins is currently about ten days – in case you might have some).

At retirement irrespective of your means a married couple picks up around $550 per week after tax which if you had no mortgage and didn’t live in Auckland would see you living a dignified if modest retirement. Supplement that by another $500 of your own private retirement savings and life would be pretty ‘sweet’ as we say. My own father tells me that he and his wife can live for around $2000 per month quite comfortably (splitting their time between homes in Tauranga and Auckland).

As a regular visitor to Singapore and Hong Kong (where property prices given the tiny size of the average apartment are absurdly high), Auckland property prices and cost of living probably looks very cheap to those coming to settle from there. Certainly no more expensive.

New Zealanders often spend our money in very different ways obviously and some might disagree with these numbers (I’d like to hear your comments) but as I find more and more people in South Africa and the Philippines unable to afford the move now my frustration is if we can only get these people to New Zealand, their skills allow them to earn good money and the cost of living, as high as we might perceive it in Auckland, allows them to get ahead relatively quickly.

Last week in Johannesburg I was consulting with a woman whose sister moved to Auckland five years ago. She is of the type I imagine is earning around $100,000 per annum. She now owns four homes...she brought no more money with her than most middle class migrants when she migrated.

I would really appreciate for the sake of those not yet in NZ but reading this to share with other readers their take on the cost of living. If you do, give us the big picture – what do you do, your income (more or less), where you live, how many children you have and how much money you brought over with you. It could be very interesting indeed.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod Southern Man - Letters from New Zealand

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Keeping Kiwi Cool

Posted by admin on April 8, 2016, 3 p.m. in Living

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending a training session on digital marketing hosted by the Auckland office of IMMagine this past weekend, and I couldn’t help but notice the spread of ‘cool’ in and around the city. I spent 20 years in New Zealand (the last 16 of those in Auckland) before moving to Melbourne in 2008. During that time, I helped thousands of people immigrate to NZ (many of whom were South Africans) and although all remarked how beautiful Auckland is, a few compared it to Johannesburg 20 years ago in terms of its development. (I say 20 years ago, but since it’s 2016 already, it’s probably a little further than that in the past where some kind of nostalgic comparison could realistically be drawn between Johannesburg and Auckland).

With Auckland’s increasingly cosmopolitan, firstworldly vibe and South Africa’s economic and social decline this gap unsurprisingly continues to widen. This type of comparison actually always offended me because while the cool and trendy side of Auckland existed back then, in true NZ fashion it was subtle and understated.

You need only wander along Ponsonby Road or have coffee in the Chancery to appreciate true NZ cool. It's not only in the architecture (see the magnificent new Auckland Art Gallery) but also in their music (Crowded House for people of my generation, Shihad for the younger folk) and in their art (see this recent article about Kiwi art selling for millions) and it's in their humour (Flight of the Conchords, 7 Days, Billy T James).

What particularly impressed me on this recent trip is that the ‘cool’ is now more overt, the shades of personality layered and visible, louder and more confident. One didn't have to look very far for the ‘cool’ in plazas or laneways - it was easily discernible throughout inner city Auckland with the gentrification of many urban areas, new cycle paths, cafe sidewalk eateries and a greater preponderance of more diverse restaurants and wine bars in the inner city. The gritty architecture of cobbled shared areas and the exposed brick of heritage buildings gives Auckland a kind of cool that has a very unique New Zealand flavour but I can see certain parallels with inner city Melbourne which is also modern, cosmopolitan and world class.

There is a stark contrast between modern Auckland and the Auckland that I immigrated to back in 1989 as a 20 something year old South African. I still remember my first day in Auckland in 1989 when I asked the bus driver where the main street of Auckland is, and the response I received was "You're in it, mate!” followed by peals of laughter.

My partner Iain recently made the comparison between Auckland and Melbourne and described Auckland as a smaller, more compact version of Melbourne and I think that comparison today in 2016 is quite justified. It's almost as if the growth in population to 1.6 million has given ‘cool’ some serious momentum in which to flourish. I’m not sure Johannesburg could really be compared today at all. (Although it goes without saying that Johannesburg has its own identity and version of “cool”, but Auckland has very quickly transformed into a new beast entirely.)

I also had the impression that New Zealanders are doing OK financially. With unemployment approaching 5% and interest rates at 4%, house prices have reached Melbourne levels yet retail shops seemed busy; one had to book for restaurants in order to be seated. It is quite easy to understand why our NZ seminars are so popular in cities in South Africa, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong to name just a few.

I do hope some of this Kiwi cool has rubbed off on me now, and I know that I am a richer person for the 20 very happy years I spent in New Zealand. Luckily, if I ever need any tips on how to keep Kiwi cool, I can look to my 3 sons born in Auckland to observe it in action.

-Myer Lipschitz, Director, IMMagine
Melbourne Office 

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A Deserted Island, a Picnic and a Large Blue Shark

Posted by Iain on March 11, 2016, 8:20 p.m. in Living

It seems last week’s blog caused more than a few heart palpitations; four people fainted, three were admitted to hospital with chest pains; fourteen had nervous breakdowns and a further 23 took to their beds for all of Saturday. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration but dear reader, I share these stories and advice with you about the risks inherent in the migration process not to cause you to wet your pants or faint on the kitchen floor but in my attempt at honest and transparent communication. You need to be aware of the risks and the rewards of migration, but please keep my advice in perspective.

For those of you now terribly concerned about travelling to NZ to look for work because you fear that this fair country of ours has more in common with North Korea than you ever thought, remember only about 8% of our South African clients are questioned or stopped and we have had one (out of thousands) refused boarding of his flight in transit.

So the risk is very low. My point was that it is all quite random, bizarre and rare...

How about this week we leave the real or perceived stresses of the border crossing behind us. I want to share with you what might go down as one of the most perfect days of my life.

Summer here rolls on although the first signs of autumn approaching can be felt in the mornings. Where overnight temperatures have in recent weeks hovered around 18-19 degrees at their minimum we are now waking up to 16-17 degree mornings. Daytime temperatures are still in the mid-20s and the humidity lingers although it is starting to decline from regular peaks of 80-90% to the mid 70%.

Last Sunday my wife and I packed the boat with a picnic lunch and our fishing gear. We decided to head out to Taranga Island which lies about 15km off the east coast of Northland. The plan was a bit of fishing, some swimming, a picnic on the boat and some quiet time in the sun.

The sky was cloudless when we set off at 11am. A very big blue sky was stretched from horizon to horizon and our island lay dead ahead floating on a calm ocean. Bream Bay was as calm as I have ever seen it. Barely a ripple disturbed the surface and there was certainly no wind. Not a breath. The sun was promising to be very hot by mid-afternoon.

About 5km out to sea I switched off the engine and let the boat drift as it pleased. The absence of any current and no wind meant we bobbed quietly. The only sound was an occasional ‘gloop gloop’ as whatever ripples there were nudged against the side of the boat.

About 20 minutes in I pulled in the first fish. A 45cm Kahawai. Traditionally thought of as a fish to use for bait, they taste wonderful in either a curry or smoked (not rolled up in Zig Zag paper you understand, but smoked as in cooked over charcoal and a low heat with plenty of wood chips for smoky flavour). We were satisfied with that – at least dinner was covered.

We lingered a little longer enjoying companionable silence and complete solitude before pressing on to the island.

Around twenty minutes later we pulled into our favourite little bay at this island and dropped anchor in 3m of water. Taranga and the islands that surround them are nature reserves – it is illegal to set foot on them. 

These islands have been cleared of all predators and are used as sanctuaries for birds and reptiles that cannot survive on the mainland owing to predation. Out there they thrive. The sound of these birds calling to one another is something you sadly never hear on the New Zealand mainland. It really is cacophonous. Incredible. Parrots, parakeets, Tuis, Bellbirds, Robins – this island really does have them all.

This island is pretty big and at its highest point towers to around 500m. I always think of Tahiti when I see Taranga – steep, rugged, with lush mature vegetation, massive trees, vines and flax bushes covering every square inch. 

The water is crystal clear, 24 degrees warm and incredibly inviting. The water is so clear that you can easily see 12m down. The bottom is sandy and dotted with outcrops of rock usually covered with swaying beds of kelp. The water is so clear you can see the fish and (according to my wife, the ‘huge’) stingrays that cruise across the bay before wriggling down into the sand where they wait quietly between meals.

 

After a few swims, our lunch and making like lizards in the sun for a quiet couple of hours we decided to head for home with a planned stop along the way for some more fishing.

At only 800m offshore this island reveals itself for the ancient volcano it is. The fish finder (radar) reveals a steep slope plunging into the depths. In that 800m from the shore the depth had gone from nothing to 65 metres. Over the side went the lines. The sun beat down. Hot. Really hot. 27 in the shade which must make it 38 in the sun.

The shirts went on, the sarongs wrapped around shoulders or draped over legs – our sun is vicious, at this time of the year the burn time is 12 minutes. The sun actually stings so the sunscreen was lathered on. On the sea you have even less protection as the rays bounce off the still water. You cop it from above and below. We drank lots of water.

Caught another 20 odd fish of which we returned 11 to the water (always fish for tomorrow is our motto – take just what you need to have a couple of good meals).

Then the shark arrived. I swear if you had any idea just how many sharks there are in our waters you’d probably never go into the sea. Picture this – the bluest water, calm as a mill pond, crystal clear and a 6m boat. A 2m shark appears, frictionless, sleek and body the colour blue (it was, no surprises, a Blue Shark). Around and under the boat it circled for around ten minutes. I have to say I love sharks – they really are quite beautiful (from 2 m away and sitting in a boat but even when I am scuba diving I love encountering them). Magnificent.

I had a bit of fun with a small fish that had timed its bite on my hook really badly. It was not looking like a good day for this baby snapper – a hook in the left side of his mouth and a shark about 200 times his size cruising up his right flank! 

The shark must have been full because he wasn’t much interested in my little fish. The shark did a couple of lazy ‘fly bys’ before ignoring my wee friend (if fish could scream I suspect this guy might have been).

A few minutes later the shark melted back into the blue and I released my little snapper back into the depths.

A wonderful encounter.

We cruised home, the sun sinking slowly ahead of us.

A magical day. Almost perfect. One of those days you never want to end.

When you get here (or if you are here) and you don’t have a boat then if you Live in Auckland you can experience pretty much all of this by visiting Tiritiri Matangi Island – a ferry goes out there and it is only about 45 minutes up the harbour. Humans are allowed, indeed encouraged, on it and being predator free you can enjoy up close encounters with some of the most endangered birds on the planet. 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Auckland in Top 3 Cities to Live

Posted by Iain on Feb. 26, 2016, 7:57 p.m. in Living

Auckland has, for the third time, just been voted the third best international city out of 230 ranked in which to live in the annual ‘Mercer Quality of Life' survey.

Which struck me as kind of strange as I sat in ‘peak hour’ traffic at 2.45pm (!) this afternoon as my wife and I fled the city for the beach house. I was thinking that there is much to really like about this city and I enjoy living in Auckland very much but I suspect those doing the survey must travel only between 11am and 2pm when the traffic flows freely. It isn’t KL, New York or God forbid, Jakarta, but we are not used to bumper to bumper traffic and we do not like it.

It also crossed my mind how much longer we would sit near the crown of the ‘best city in the world in which to live’ tree. Everyone I know now grumbles about spending 1-3 hours a day sitting in their car getting to and from work or to some other destination.

I blogged a few weeks ago how the Government had, after several years of telling us we didn’t need it, brought forward financing for the ‘we’ve been waiting for 100 years’ city rail loop and the final pieces to the freeway jigsaw. I hesitate to say 'too little, too late' as I am sure it will all help but with all the growth in population going on here - natural and migration led - I thank my good fortune we brought a house in central Auckland 21 years ago and don’t need to cross this city every day by car.

Not enough houses and too many people arriving right at the time that housing shortage was starting to bite has put a lot of people, particularly those immigrants, under real financial pressure. Migrants continued to arrive in Auckland at a rate of 42,000 or so last year - migrants being Kiwis coming home largely from Australia, Australians coming with them and the rest being resident visa holders coming to join us.

So the pressure is certainly on, but it is leading to changed behaviours. My eldest son who lives just down the road from us has dispensed with a car and catches buses everywhere. Another youngster that has joined us this week catches the train to and from work. We have two that catch ferries from northern and eastern parts of greater Auckland. All very regular, clean, safe and convenient. It seems the younger you are the more likely you are to prefer sitting on a train, bus or boat catching up on work or with friends...

Back to the survey! It ranks, as I said, 230 cities on factors such as culture and environment, political stability, safety, housing, education, and ease of doing business.

That pretty much sums up everything that makes Auckland a great place to live and raise families - great schools; so politically stable as to be dull; out of 1.6million people over 40% are foreign born meaning it is an incredibly vibrant place. I reflected on this aspect as I left the office earlier today. Sitting at one set of traffic lights I observed people from all over the world; women dressed in wonderfully bright saris, Sikhs with bright orange turbans, Chinese in huge sun hats, over dressed Koreans with gaudy sun umbrellas, the odd hijab and two young Arabs looking like they had just parked their camels somewhere. 

Because central Auckland is home to two world class universities and satellites of several others, Downtown teems with youngsters from literally all over the world. Africans, Arabs, Asians - you name the country, they are probably here. The sweet smell of flavoured tobacco hangs in the air in the narrow street behind our office and is a meeting place for young Arab and other (mainly) Muslim men from mid-afternoon until well after the sun goes down.

Export education is now worth $1.5 billion dollars per year and a lot of that ends up in Auckland - high quality education at a relatively affordable price when compared to more expensive countries like the U.S. gives Auckland a real advantage.

It is a vibrant, cosmopolitan and outward looking city yet once you are through the traffic you can within 30 minutes be on any number of relatively deserted beaches, wandering across publicly owned parks and farmlands, chilling in rain forests, be on a boat fishing or sitting enjoying a glass of Friday afternoon Pinot Gris on a vineyard on an island that took you 40 minutes by ferry to get to.

It remains overwhelmingly safe with crime statistics continuing to fall across all categories (except sexual assault, but those that understand these things say that reflects higher rates of victims being willing to report rather than any ‘natural’ increase in offending).

The quality of housing is generally high (if you can afford one) and with the proposed changes to our residential zones things will get even more exciting as we look to moderately intensify areas like Mount Eden where I live. 

Speaking of Mount Eden, as I climbed this extinct volcano a few days ago with my wife I realised, not for the first time, that what we take so much for granted is viewed with awe by the 3.2 million people who visit each year, many of whom it seems head for the summit of this piece of geological magic in the middle of the city. Auckland is dotted with these extinct volcanos and the views from their summits are the best in town -  perhaps that from Mount Eden being number one. As I climbed I heard French, Spanish, Hindi, Korean, Chinese and a smattering of other tongues I could not identify.

Auckland scores high for things to do and places to, well, be human - eat, drink, socialise...

If you had been here today you’d have enjoyed 29 degree warmth with barely a cloud in the sky.

It really doesn’t get a whole lot better. Summer this year has been long and hot and there is no end in sight.

For what it might be worth, Wellington came in at 12, Sydney at 10 and Melbourne at 15 (that’ll cause a bit of inter-office banter no doubt).

Vienna came out on top, followed by Zurich - these two cities and Auckland, though very different to each other, always rank highly. Vancouver, as it always does, topped North America (never been there but everything I hear leads me to speculate it is the ‘Auckland’ of North America).

No prizes for guessing Damascus and Baghdad came last.

Which is interesting timing because today the first of several hundred Syrian refugees arrived in the country and are being resettled in Wellington - the 12th best city out of 230 to live in. I suspect most have never heard of New Zealand, would never choose to be resettled here, but many I hope will in time once they are more settled, thank their good fortune we invited them to seek shelter here.

I am sure we will make them welcome and safe to enjoy the very special country that this one is.

I am off for a weekend of wood chopping, weed pulling, sea swimming and getting all ‘beachy’, so...

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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A Few Days People Spotting in the Abel Tasman

Posted by Iain on Feb. 19, 2016, 8:51 p.m. in Living

I often reflect on just how lucky I was to be born in New Zealand. Not to be smug about it but when I consider what our clients have to go through to secure their slice of this place it makes me very grateful indeed.

Never more so than over the past week or so when my wife and I enjoyed a few days in the city of Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park with four friends. This top (left) corner of the South Island is known for its long, hot dry summers, crystal clear seas, golden sandy beaches and forests. Vineyards and orchards dot the countryside around the National Park which is criss crossed with wide meandering rivers and estuaries. 

Nelson itself is a beautiful small city of around 90,000 people where, unlike the imbecile planners that came before my generation in Auckland, the old buildings dating back to the 1880s and thereabouts are still standing tall and proud. I doubt you’d have ever seen more cute places to drink coffee and then while away a few hours wandering through the art galleries that are abundant in this lovely provincial city.

Over three days we sea-kayaked around 8km, past seal colonies and islands where the predators have been eliminated allowing space for New Zealand’s native birds to recolonise in tenuous peace and walked for 40km through regenerating forest in one of New Zealand’s newer National Parks (est. 1942).

Although I was expecting a ‘wilderness’ experience this is the height of the tourist season and the trails and beaches were, by New Zealand standards, actually pretty crowded.

At times I thought the ‘305 from Munich’ had pulled in. That or the Sea Princess had slid in to a bay out of eyesight and proceeded to disgorge some of the most miserably unhappy looking people I have ever seen. Perhaps they are not used to walking...

We are not talking Orchard Road in Singapore on a Friday night or Yellowstone over Thanksgiving weekend but there was no shortage of wheezing, gasping, limping, chattering, noisy humans - the one animal I was quite keen to escape from.

I have often wondered who those camping and fishing and otherwise outdoor shops that are everywhere in this country sold all their wares to. Now I know. While my small group were walking in old Nikes, any old shorts grabbed from the wardrobe and $8 tank tops, the foreign walkers had all the latest in stink proof, water dissipating, stretch tops with matching water resistant khaki slacks tucked inside merino wool socks and sturdy boots. With German engineered walking poles pumping piston like at their sides.

Being Kiwis we greeted each and every one. Wished them a Good morning or afternoon and enquired as to their general health. The responses were hilarious. At least half stared right through us as if we had not even been there (some feat on a path that’s about 1.5 humans wide). Others grunted. A few said hello. At least two young Europeans who looked like they had slept rough for a week and had just been to an Ozzy Osbourne concert (with appropriate all black attire and over sized baseball caps with mullet hair dos) literally grunted as they passed, eyes unblinking and fixed on the next bend in the track.

One group of spray tanned young Spanish women were determined to drown out the annoying clattering cicadas and delightfully twittering birds by cranking up the loudest European dance music from a set of speakers on one of their backpacks.

Another group who were unfortunately walking in the same direction as us had the same wilderness experience in mind as the Spaniards (as in they were thinking, we are young, nature sucks, it’s lovely to look at but I need the sounds of urbanity - loud) and they too had the music pumping from a backpack. I looked back and saw my companions dancing away behind them...I have never felt so old in my life...is it true the older we get the more imbeciles we seem to come across?

The best of the human spotting had to be the rather pompous elderly Englishman and his wife who decided they did not require any assistance in boarding and then launching their double kayak into a reasonable sized swell on day one. 

Rejecting the assistance of three rather nubile young back packers (he can’t have had his glasses on or he’d have seen what he was missing) he responded with a dismissive wave of his hand and a jolly old ‘We’ll be fine…’ Then  having rebuffed the approach attempted to get on board.

Seeing the swells were in danger or rolling over the top of the kayak one of the nubile troop tried again and asked if she could hold the kayak for him. At this point he got a little angry and with more hand waving told them in no uncertain terms that ‘IF I NEED HELP I WILL ASK FOR IT!’ at which these helpful young ladies beat a hasty retreat back up the beach.

Mrs "We Do Not Need Any Help" had made it into the front seat of the kayak and was facing out to sea with a grim expression on her face and her paddle at the ready. Never turned her head.

Mr "We Do Not Need Any Help" then proceeded to attempt a boarding of his end of the craft. The breaking waves were doing their best to turn the nose of the kayak side on (something the pretty young things in bikinis could have helped prevent) and just as he went to slide into the seat he completely missed and slid over and off the side of the kayak. With a rather inglorious splash and a waving of his paddle he disappeared under the foam. Having been hit and floored by several more waves as he tried to stand up, he floundered and flayed as the kayak did its best to roll back over the top of him. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t cause much merriment to those of us sitting on the beach chewing on our sun ripened fruit. One of our party was almost in need of the Heimlich manuever.

After several attempts to right himself he pinged up off the sand and balanced his bum once again on the back of he kayak and attempted a ‘landing’ into it once again but this time from the opposite side. With hands and paddle windmilling above him he missed and slid off the other side into the Tasman Sea with yet another rather large displacement of water.

By this time everyone who was on the beach either had their hands clasped firmly over their mouths or were laughing so hard those clattering cicadas were once again being drowned out. Cruel I know. But hey, more than one person had offered to help and no one else had refused as they needed to leave the beach in their kayaks.

His wife continued to sit stoically in front with eyes fixed on the horizon, paddle still at the ready. I got the feeling she’d been in these ‘stuff and nonsense’ situations before where the English stiff upper lip would win the day.

Third time lucky and soaking wet he almost dived headlong into the kayak, somehow managed to get his legs in and he triumphantly dipped his paddle in the sea but realised too late that, with him on board, his end of the kayak was now wedged firmly in the sand and the waves were crashing over his wife. He must have found some strength from somewhere and he pushed at the sand with his paddle as they were lifted on a wave and and off they went at great speed.

Not once did either look back.

The rest of us all sought and gratefully accepted a helping hand as we launched our kayaks. 

When we had stopped laughing.

It was, all in all a magical experience spent with great friends in a part of New Zealand that is so like so many other parts of New Zealand. God smackingly wonderful to be in and around.

Add it to your NZ bucket list. Don’t expect too much peace and quiet if you go at peak season but you get to see some very beautiful scenery and some very odd (human) birds.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Simple Pleasures

Posted by Iain on Jan. 15, 2016, 10:17 a.m. in Living

Happy New Year and all the best for 2016.

I have just returned from enjoying the thick end of three weeks at my beach house north of Auckland. 

I was listening to a conversation on the radio as we cruised home last night about ‘how blessed we are’ to live in this country.

It is so right.

I think it’s only when you spend as much time away overseas as I do that you can truly appreciate what we have here.

I crave the time away from Auckland for a couple of weeks to recharge the batteries and for the relative peace and quiet. I say ‘relative’ because from Boxing Day through to the second week in January it seems, judging by the number of Audis, Porsches and BMWs that most of Auckland followed us north. 

Irrespective, life slows down. I was determined to turn the computer off and not clear emails (that lasted precisely three days but doing it when you are ready somehow seems like a break anyway). This online and instant world can often be just a little too instant…

We spend our days with friends and family. We take long walks along coastal trails and the many stunning beaches that line the east coast of the North Island. 

I continue my never ending project of rehabilitating 6000 square metres of abused Northland. Blistered hands, sun burned nose, aching muscles - there is nothing I’d rather be doing than shoveling compost, digging holes and planting native trees.

We usually go fishing but like clockwork whenever I suggest to my tractor that it needs to be good and play fair and help us to launch the boat of the beach it packs a sad. This year we got out once, caught some good fish and then the tractor started haemorrhaging transmission oil. It has been in intensive care ever since. Lucky fish!

When El Nino wasn’t delivering windy nights my wife and I retreated to our Safari Lodge tent to sleep. We just love our nights in there. It is big enough to have a Queen sized bed. The smell of the vegetation outside, the occasional whiff of salt laden sea air. The rustle of leaves.  We were treated on several nights to a spectacular huge moon rise. 

For those of you that live in big cities you cannot imagine the sky at night here. Being the southern hemisphere, we get to look in toward the centre of our galaxy when we look up. Our skies are dark (little light pollution once you are away from the city) and not a night would go by without my sitting in a deck chair just staring up the sky. You’d be amazed at how many satellites you see (13 in one hour is the record).

We are lulled to sleep by the sound of crashing waves, Morepork (native night owls) calling to one another and a chorus of crickets.

We were woken every morning at dawn by the call of the Tui, shrieking of Minah birds, the ‘kuk, kuk kuk’ of the Kingfisher, the warble of the Piwakawaka (native Fantail) and two particularly verbose sheep in a nearby neighbouring paddock (I can’t wait till they become lamb chops, they mess with my karma).

This year the baritone sheep were accompanied by two baby kingfishers that had hatched just after Christmas. I had never heard the noise these birds make when young before - best described as a never ending dragon like hissing (I presume dragons hiss). They clearly do this as they are vulnerable to predators and so they set up this din at dawn and they go all day. And I mean all day. Their parents arrived back to the nest in a hollow tree every half hour or so with a steady supply of skinks, a small brown native lizard.

They left the nest yesterday, just as we were about to leave.

My other delight is a lone Bellbird. This small olive green bird about the size of a Blackbird or Thrush moved in about two years ago forced off an offshore island, we believe through drought. Most mornings I thought I heard his distant ‘bing bong’ call which is truly beautiful but through my sleepiness I wasn’t quite sure.

Then a few days ago I thought I could hear him close by when I was working in the garden and sure enough, just as every other time when I thought he may have moved along, there he was, sitting no more than 3 metres away picking at the bright orange berries of the Karaka tree. He sang after every mouthful. All I could do was sit beneath the tree quietly and drink in his splendid song. And smile at my good fortune.

I don’t know what it is but every time I think he might have moved on to greener pastures (or more flowered trees) and I haven’t seen him for a while he reappears, almost, it seems, reminding me that he never really went anywhere.

In three hours I am climbing aboard another big bird, this time with engines and flying north to Singapore for a heavily booked seminar tomorrow morning before a week in Kuala Lumpur and a few days in Hong Kong.

I’ll go to sleep the next week or two imagining I am back in that tent and the sound of humanity outside the window is not traffic and the hum of these overcrowded cities where everyone is so removed from everything we take for granted here in New Zealand, but crashing waves and the wind in the trees.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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How's Your Climate Change Plan Coming Along?

Posted by Iain on Dec. 4, 2015, 1:38 p.m. in Living

Walking down Orchard Road this morning with beads of sweat hooking up and trickling down my face, I was wondering if countries like Singapore will even be habitable if the current Climate Change talks are not successful in Paris.

No one I ever consult with in this part of the world tells me that they are leaving because they believe their grandchildren will be living in an oven; likely unable to spend much time outdoors given the heat and humidity. They want to go to New Zealand for education and for work life balance and I wonder when they will start adding ‘to escape the impacts of climate change’ to that list? They should.

I guess the talking in Paris all seems so remote on an individual level doesn’t it? Who among us has really stopped to think about whether our towns, cities or even our countries will remain habitable in 50, 100 or 150 years? I don’t. I tend to just think as far as we are impacted in NZ growing seasons will change, where things can be grown will change and we might be able to go to the beach and swim in winter.

The science suggests you and I are in the middle of causing a mass extinction with our actions and the inevitable but rapid climate change being accelerated by human activity might see us being swept away with it. I am not hopeful that as individuals we will act wisely – there is scant evidence we ever do. I can tell you when you walk down the road in Singapore you hope like hell we are individually willing to swallow the tough economic medicine and quite possibly lower living standards that will be required by those of living in rich countries in order to save humanity.

Today Singapore - a country with no real natural resources - only enjoys the material wealth it does through imported energy that allows ubiquitous air-conditioning and the ultimate in urban existences. I genuinely believe Singapore would still be a tropical island covered in a few small fishing villages if it wasn’t for fossil fuel driven air-conditioning systems. It is simply too hot. No one would work here. Ditto the rest of the tropical regions which are only going to get hotter, probably wetter and less habitable (unless you are a slime mould, in which case it will be like an endless holiday).

If temperatures globally were to increase by even 2 degrees as seems highly probable then I suspect we will see more than just Pacific Islanders being forced off drowning islands, we will also have to deal with ‘heat refugees’. In countries like Malaysia (next on my tour) people might be able to migrate to higher mountainous areas, not just to avoid potentially rising sea levels but to find cooler temperatures. Singaporeans will have nowhere to go. All the material wealth in the world won’t be worth a zot.

Next week I am due in Hong Kong where the weather is more benign but the air filthy as China does it’s utmost to destroy what I breathe. This week’s smog in Beijing is not exclusive to that city, much of southern China and India is the same. I am revolted by the thought of what I will have to breathe while in Hong Kong and I cannot for the life of me work out why anyone would live there. The money and lifestyle can’t be that good that you are fearful of what you breathe. I am not looking forward to heading back up there.

What irks me more than anything is that while Asia and much of the developing world crap in their own nests the impacts are being spread through our planet given it is largely a closed system of atmosphere and water. Whatever rubbish people chuck in the oceans can end up on my beach. Whatever they pump into the air I get to breathe. There is no escaping it.

Turning the focus onto New Zealand we are surrounded by a lot of ocean so the temperature changes for us will be more gradual and our air is pretty clean to begin with.

However, change is coming, and while our economy might be quite small in the scheme of things and much of our energy already comes from renewables (hydro and geothermal) we are on a per capita basis among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases (well, it isn’t us, it’s more the several million belching and farting cows we raise). I asked myself the other day if as individuals we are really going to be willing to make changes to our lives and change fossil fuel dependent economies through the action of the self. I fly several hundred thousand kilometres on planes each year. I own a car. My wife owns a car. My two sons own and run cars. We have a swimming pool heated using natural gas. We use a clothes dryer in winter (and hang clothes out in summer and fine winter days). We have gas heating of our house through winter. I expect we are as a family emitting more than our fair share.

So what could I do to reduce it without crimping my lifestyle? I could walk to work and leave the diesel car at home – it’s only about 5km so would give me the 10,000 steps a day I like to walk! Every ten minutes or so a very large filthy greenhouse gas spewing bus travels from the end of my street into the city and would drop me by the office so if I didn’t feel like walking because it was wet I could jump on the bus. It is spewing fumes whether I am sitting on it or not, so why not leave the car at home? We are not big red meat eaters (growing meat takes huge amounts of energy and water) but we could limit red meat to perhaps once a week from the two times we eat it now. Fewer steaks requires fewer burping and farting cattle on our land. So actually there are some pretty easy wins in there.

Auckland is moving to intensify residential building – my street for example is being re-zoned so we can double the number of houses on the land or build up to four stories. I am a real fan of this moderate intensification. I am convinced that if we can bring more people into a smaller area of our cities it not only saves money in terms of commuting costs and exhaust emissions (and not wasting time sitting in traffic),it makes regular public transport systems more viable and cuts the costs of servicing those people (storm water, sewerage, waste water and so on. Aucklanders demand better, faster and cheaper public transport but want someone else to pay for it while not losing their back garden to low rise apartment blocks. Building design and construction techniques can significantly change the energy equation of housing – no new technology required for that. Just local building laws and regulations forcing it. I’d like to see a reasonably hefty fuel tax slapped on petrol and diesel and that money reinvested into subsidising electric vehicle sales as a start.

NZ has no shortage of hydro-electricity and most places have enough solar capacity to make this ‘free’ supplement a viable option given the dramatic 80% fall in the cost of solar panels in recent years. In the end I don’t think we can wait for the world’s leadership to force change upon us. We need to force change upon ourselves and our local, if not central Government, leadership. Equally we all need to be prepared to compromise as individuals because this urgently required move away from fossil fuels is not going to be quick nor easy. Unfortunately turkeys don‘t usually vote for an early Christmas so I am not holding my breath on the political front.

So good luck Singapore and good luck Hong Kong – your cities are I imagine going to become largely uninhabitable within the next few decades if as individuals you don’t very quickly force change upon yourselves or your regional neighbours. In the meantime New Zealand represents something of a lifeboat for those looking to escape the environmental degradation – we might all be on the same planet but at least our air remains fresh and our environment relatively unsullied. That buys us time, but the end game will be the same here on spaceship Earth and we have our part to play in trying to minimise the damage as well.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod Southern Man

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How do pensions work in NZ?

Posted by Iain on Nov. 6, 2015, 11:02 a.m. in Living

It might be that I am tired after a long year, much of it spent on the road, but I did turn my thoughts to retirement last night.

Not giving up work, I have mortgages to pay, but how we plan for it in New Zealand and how the process works. I am a good few years off qualifying for it yet thank goodness.

In New Zealand the retirement age is 65. I suspect it is a compulsory age for giving away work if you work in the public sector. For the rest of we normal and productive folk however no one can force us to retire. It is a choice that we make. Without naming names I have one employee who is still going strong and is in her 70s.

If you do retire the taxes you have paid down the years entitles you to varying amounts depending on your circumstance but I am taking the three most common – married/living together, single and living alone or single and sharing accommodation (not with a partner). Currently after tax these payments are $374.53, $345.72 and $576.20 per week.

The pension (or Superannuation as we call it) is not means tested so irrespective of your personal wealth or other income you still get the amounts above.

For those migrating to New Zealand they are only eligible for the pension if they have lived in New Zealand for at least 10 years since they turned 20. Five of those years must be since they turned 50. They don’t necessarily even have to have paid into the tax system but they must be a resident for tax purposes (it is different). All Superannuatants must hold a resident visa or be a NZ citizen. 

To some people $576.20 in the hand might sound like quite a bit but when one considers the cost of living especially in cities like Auckland it is enough to get by and no more in most cases. It would allow someone with no debts and who owns their own home to live with a high degree of independence and dignity.

There is no compulsory retirement savings law in New Zealand. However more than 50% of those aged under 40 and in empmoyment do have their own private schemes in place through ‘Kiwisaver’. This percentage is rising all the time.

Most people of my generation and younger then will when they retire be entitled to both the State pension and whatever they have privately saved for through Kiwisaver.

Kiwisaver works roughly like this:

  • When you get employment you are by law automatically enrolled in the scheme and you have 8 weeks to opt out if you choose; and
  • Your employer pays 3% of your salary into the scheme and you can nominate 3%, 4% or 8% of your income to go into it; and
  • You nominate a private sector wealth manager to invest your savings (your employer pays their and your contributions to the Tax Department who passes it along to your nominated provider – if you don’t nominate one you are assigned to one automatically until you decide to move to another or stick with that one). In this respect it is no different to most private retirement savings schemes around the world; and
  • If you invest a minimum of $20 per week the Government contributes the same into your account (to a maximum of $20). 

I am not a financial or tax adviser and there is of course more to it than this – contribution holidays for example, withdrawing early to buy your first house….but please do not email me questions about it. There are a couple of good links I can provide:

Kiwisaver – how it works

Superannuation – who is entitled to it and how much do you get?

The interesting part for me is what good politics Kiwisaver is. New Zealanders don’t take kindly to being told what to do and the Government knew ten years ago that telling us we must save and passing a law would be counterproductive and they would likely be kicked out of office. So they came up with a scheme that bribed us with our own money (not sure what that says about the intelligence of New Zealanders but that’s another story) – save $20 per week and we the Government will match it. And we’ll give you a bit of a tax break at the same time. Where else can you get 100% interest outside of a Ponzi scheme?

New Zealand’s greatest challenge like most of the developed world is a rapidly aging population.  When we originally set up a universal retirement scheme back in 1937 you could get the pension when you turned 60. In those days life expectancy was 62 so your fellow taxpayers didn’t have to support you for too long. With our life expectancy increasing all the time (it is 82 and climbing) so the age of entitlement was increased to 65. That is still a long time to fund an ever increasing number of people through to about 2050 when the population is projected to decline (unless we want to increase migrant numbers). Low birth rates means the average age of the population is increasing all the time so in theory fewer tax payers to fund the retired.

It is my view, and I am no Economist, that the country simply cannot (and never could) afford to keep funding retirement to the level it has and continue to publicly fund health (costs rising all the time for the same reason – aging population).

Poll after poll shows that New Zealanders believe we should increase the age of entitlement of Superannuation to at least 67 (the Australians have recently done it and they have a highly geared compulsory retirement scheme).

Unfortunately our current Prime Minister made a foolish pledge before he was elected that if he raised the entitlement age while in office he’d resign as Prime Minister. It was perhaps politically expedient at the time but that one line could have serious implications for the nation’s finances in 20 years’ time.

Kiwisaver is a nice foil to the Prime Minister’s foolish commitment and goes some way to offsetting the affordability of this very nice but very expensive taxpayer funded system.

Enrolling in Kiwisaver as a migrant is a no brainer in my view, even if only the minimum $20 per week which no one is really going to miss.

My Accountant always said pay the minimum until your house is paid off. Then save a bigger chunk through Kiwisaver.

Solid advice.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Discrimination: Real or Imagined

Posted by Iain on Oct. 23, 2015, 1:16 p.m. in Living

In this business you meet people every day who are looking for something better - a brighter future for their children usually, but equally, somewhere safe where the rule of law is respected. A country where everyone is treated equally irrespective of gender, religion, ethnicity or nationality.

They therefore ask some interesting and challenging questions.

Like whether their children will settle in. Whether their children will accepted by Kiwi children. Whether South Africans are welcome.

These are all rational and valid questions.

It all goes to how they see the world. Their world. This South Africa world that many have never left even on holiday before they emigrate. This crazy, dangerous, corrupt and - one might speculate - morally bankrupt country.

It is no wonder - this week’s major horror story (there are daily less horrific stories) concerns two couples sitting in a park in Johannesburg on the weekend enjoying the early summer sun. They were attacked by a group of 12 youths who tied up the two men while they proceeded to rape one of the women. Not content with incapacitating the husbands having tied them up, they then threw them into a lake and watched them drown while they proceeded to rape one of the women.

So they imagine that life elsewhere might be like it is here. Where people are deeply suspcious of other people.

Let me say that the vast majority of South Africans in my experience are peaceful, law abiding citizens and like the rest of us want exactly the same for their children and families as we do. They are no different to any New Zealander.

However because they grow up in a country that is still torn by racial and economic divisions they seem to assume it is the same everywhere else and different sectors of the community are at each other’s throats.

Given there is real xenophobia and relatively regular attacks on migrants in South Africa my potential clients ask, reasonably, if it is the same in New Zealand. Some have heard migrants (particularly South Africans) are not welcome.

I tell them, with hand on heart, I have never had any South African client ever tell me they have been made to feel unwelcome. I am not suggesting it has never happened but South Africans are just like New Zealanders on the whole (once we smooth out the rough edges).

New Zealanders are very friendly people, they are genuinely warm and overwhelmingly tolerant.

But don’t take my word for it.

In a survey carried out between April 2014 and March this year, the numbers of people who reported they felt discriminated against increased from a steady 10% in the previous three surveys to 17% in the latest survey. I confess I was surprised it was so high but I note that the question changed to one that was somewhat specific to one that was, frankly, so vague and touch feely as to be virtually meaningless.

Whereas historically the question was "In the last 12 months have you been treated unfairly or had something nasty done to you because of the group you belong to or seem to belong to?" 

The latest survey asked: "By discrimination I mean being treated unfairly or differently compared with other people. In the last 12 months have you been discriminated against?"

The survey doesn’t measure actual discrimination, it measures a perception of someone being nasty and you concluding it was because of your ethnicity or the group you might belong to.

I’d suggest the results are pretty meaningless or at least 83% of people confirmed even in their minds they have never felt discriminated against.

That is reinforced by the longitudunal (and in my view more precise and scientific) survey that the NZ Government has carried out over the past 17 years. This study follows the experiences of migrants by checking in on them every couple of years. More than 95% report they have never experienced any form of racism nor discrimination.

Overall then I think most migrants can relax. Whatever trials and tribulations might await them and undoubtedly there are some while they settle in, them or their children not being accepted or being discriminated against is not going to be among them.

It is perhaps worth adding, that even if 17% of migrants perceived that there is discrimination or interpreted some action or comment as being made because they were a migrant, I’d suggest it beats risking being tied up and chucked into a lake and drowning while a gang of youths rape your wife.

Life ain’t perfect anywhere but let’s just say some places are more perfect than others.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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