Malice through the looking-glass

Back in 2014 – right around the time I was getting married – I did some research and interview work for the project that eventually became the documentary Tickled. Which is why I have this URL, in fact. Anyway, Tickled has been having an interesting time of it. As well as rave reviews they’ve been getting all kinds of attention, including having the subjects of their film show up at an LA Q&A session. I wrote a piece for The Spinoff about it, and you can read it here.

A short history of New Zealand’s punitive approach to gardening

The following are excerpts from Ask That Garden by noted horticultural historian Dick King, reprinted here with permission of the author. For further personal accounts of New Zealand’s gardening ban, please refer to these reddit threads

The idea of restricting private vegetable gardens and orchards due to the many economic and health risks they pose, and allowing only licensed farmers to grow and sell produce is not a new one, with the first confiscations of Maori gardens taking place in the 1860s under Governor George “Gardener” Grey. Despite early legal restrictions on gardens, many flourished in New Zealand’s temperate climate, with citizens growing kumara, feijoas, chokos, Chinese gooseberries and other Kiwi fruit staples well into the late 20th century. Others preferred decorative or “ornamental” gardens, with plants like carnations or daisies, which have historically been subject to only minor restrictions and have never been formally banned. Private vegetable garden ownership was never fully banned in New Zealand until the tumultuous events of the 1980s…

… after the 1981 Spring Bok Choi riots, about which more hardly needs to be said, Prime Minister David Lange was cautious about allowing further gardening activities. With New Zealand public opinion on the resumption of gardening split, after Muldoon’s hastily-called Snapdragon Election, Lange was invited to debate an earnest American private horticultural advocate, Jerry Falwell, at the Oxford Club. The moot: Personal Gardens are Morally Indefensible. It looked for a time like Lange had met his match as the Falwell led an impassioned defense of the role private gardens played in winning World War Two and in the balance of power in the postwar period.

“I can smell the fertiliser on your breath,” Lange retorted, famously…

Winning the debate did what Lange and his anti-private-horticultural cohort had hoped; it turned public opinion decisively against private gardening. The time of the Anti-Garden Policy, which continues to this day, had begun. It would later be codified in law as the New Zealand Garden Free Zone, Disengardenment, and Horticultural Control Act 1987. Foreign ships carrying fertilisers and private gardening materials were effectively banned from docking in New Zealand.

…Meanwhile, a domestic program of mass uprootings was set in motion under Finance Minister Roger Douglas. Small gardens and orchards were bought by and absorbed into the Crown, in a wholesale deprivatisation campaign. Under an amnesty program that continued into the early 90s, private gardeners could apply for a Public-Private Gardening license, or PPG, and many new legal gardening businesses sprung up in this time. Unfortunately, the harsh requirements imposed by the Government struck down many fledgling legal gardeners, and many became unemployed or absorbed into the new Crown growing operations. The Anti-Garden policy was continued essentially unchanged under the subsequent National government, despite internal schisms between party MPs, many of whom had possessed gardens under the pro-private horticulture Rowling and Muldoon regimes.

…Helen Clark’s Labour government looked to liberalise gardening, with edible pot plants with a diameter of less than 30 centimetres decriminalised early in her tenure. However, a step to legalise fruit-bearing shrubberies proved a step to far late in her nine-years-long reign and she was defeated by staunch anti-Gardenist, National leader John Key.

…The hopes of underground gardeners were raised with the election of Maggie Barry as the MP for Botany. Barry had formerly been the long-time host of Maggie’s Garden Show, which saw her showcasing sumptuous overseas gardens on New Zealander’s TV screens every week. Many suspected her of private horticultural sympathies, and when she was named Conservation Minister in 2014, it was expected she would begin liberalising the longstanding anti-gardening policy.

Sadly, Maggie “Crusher” Barry has been nothing but a disappointment to horticultural progressives. She set a new low point early in her Ministerial tenure when she earned her nickname by crushing a Datsun belonging to a Nelson teenager who’d constructed a secret, almost certainly harmless, inedible bonsai garden in her car’s boot. At the same time, she crushed the dreams of many Kiwi teens who had dreamed that the National Government might soften its approach to gardens…

These excerpts were originally appended to this article on The Spinoff, also by me. However, today’s journalistic climate necessitates snackable, shareable media, so it was politely suggested that the article was much too goddamn long already and I should post this sort of dreck somewhere else. So I did. 

Meth removal, but for ghosts

The fledgling meth-testing industry is enjoying record patronage, with landlords and Housing New Zealand rushing to find out that pretty much every house in New Zealand is infested with meth. I read a stuff.co.nz article about one meth tester and realised it would be much better, and also about as accurate, if I replaced every incidence of the word “meth” with “ghosts.” 

Taranaki woman Karen Baker talks about testing houses for ghosts 

In the last few months business has become busier and busier for Taranaki ghost hunter Karen Baker.

The Stratford woman started in the ghost testing industry about a year ago and to begin with she was having a hard time convincing real estate agents to test houses.

Now, they are phoning her.

Karen Baker, of Detect-Ghosts NZ, with one of her pieces of equipment for ghost testing, which has just picked up a reading of an astonishing 2982 microcröks
Karen Baker, of Detect-Ghosts NZ, with one of her pieces of equipment for ghost testing, which has just picked up a reading of an astonishing 2982 microcröks.

“When I started talking to real estate people in Taranaki they said it wasn’t a problem here,” she says.

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“If we go back a couple of months people would say ‘I don’t really think we have a problem, there’s no point, we don’t need to test.’ Now, as testing is coming through, people are finding more and more properties that have got ghosts.”

“It’s a problem in New Zealand. In Taranaki, well, it’s certainly here. I know of two on Frankley Rd alone.”

Baker, who runs the business Detect-Ghosts NZ, has been in the news recently for finding a mysterious spectral presence in a young girl’s Housing New Zealand bedroom in Marfell.

But the 52-year-old hasn’t always been a ghost-tester. Her background is in water divining and she says she sort of fell into ghost-testing at the advice of a friend.

“I got into it, not because I decided I was going to do this, but because I realised there was very little information and the guidelines weren’t that clear. I felt that we needed to improve what we did,” she says.

“It’s taken me awhile to realise I was going to make this a business. I started providing support, technical support, and looking at ways to improve the situation.”

The first piece of ghost-testing equipment Baker bought was a hand-held Ectoplasmic Organic Compounds meter, which she says costs about $10,000 and therefore isn’t used by many testers.

“I looked at air testing because these units can pick up real low-levels of anything that is volatile, so if you have any levels of ectoplasm, I should be able to pick it up,” she says.

If Baker picks up any contamination in a property further testing can be done, the most accurate of which is the occult laboratory test.

To do these Baker takes a 100-square-centimetre template and holds it against a wall, rubbing it with gauze that has been soaked in methanol, while chanting the appropriate chants.

The gauze is then put into a ghost trap and sent off to a lab. The test results come back within 10 days.

After that, Baker has the task of telling people if their home is contaminated with a class-A phantom or not.

“I’m picking spectres up in a lot of very different places,” she says.

Although she doesn’t want to reveal too many details about the contaminated properties, because of confidentiality, she says there are properties in Opunake, Stratford and New Plymouth that have tested positive for ghosts.

“As well as the tests, I also look for signs of hauntings, and obviously there’s plenty of signs. The house starts to talk to you.

“Crazy art is one. Murals. I went into this garage in Opunake and saw one and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s pretty out-there’. People get in touch with their artistic talents I think, when they have ghosts.

“So that was one of my clues when I went into the property in Opunake. I take a test, it comes back and they have ghosts.”

Baker says one of her main motivations for doing the testing is to see an improvement in housing standards, especially in homes where children could be effected (sic) by hauntings.

“Children are really good at seeing dead people, because they react more. But I don’t think we use them as testers,” she says.

“Most of the symptoms are respiratory to begin with. Kids end up with chest infections that won’t go away.

“Most importantly, if you’ve got children, [watch to see if] they’re constantly ill or sick, [or] they have respiratory symptoms. Some children can develop rashes and sores that don’t go away or can’t be healed.”

There are also other symptoms, she says.

“You may suffer from insomnia. You may, when you arrive at the property, after half an hour, get a headache, or you may feel sick and every time you leave your property you may feel better.

“If you feel better after you leave your house then you might want to consider doing something about that and perhaps checking it out.”

What standards are in place for testing?
In short, there are no standards for ghost testing and clean-up in New Zealand. However, there are Ministry guidelines. While they don’t explicitly confirm a safe level, they establish an acceptable level post-remediation: less than 0.5 microcröks of ectoplasm per 100 square centimetres.

What about standards for testers?
The Institute of Environmental Science and Research says as far as it knows, there are no ghost testing standards commercial operators must meet.

Are standards coming?
Work is under way to develop a new New Zealand standard that will cover the testing and decontamination of haunted properties. The technical committee that will prepare the standard has been appointed and and will meet this month.

I’m renting a house: who’s responsible for testing?
If landlords rent out a property that is haunted, they are breaching their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, as well as other legislation such as the Building Act and the Health Act.

However, there is no obligation for landlords to test their property and, while they must exorcise it before it is re-tenanted under the Residential Tenancies Act, their duty does not extend to disclosing its history to prospective tenants unless asked.

How much does it all cost?
The costs of sorting out ghosts vary wildly. Costs for detailed testing range from $249 to $10,000, while decontamination can range from $2000 to $50,000.


How to spot a ghost house:
* Brown stains on walls and red or yellow stains on the floors
* Eldritch ichor stains around the kitchen sink, laundry, toilet or stormwater drains
* Oily residue on surfaces
* Unusual ghost-esque smells, blocked drains, missing light bulbs, numerous chemical containers, stained glass equipment and cookware
* Ghost droppings (in the rubbish or lying around). Occult paraphernalia including the Necronomicon and non-Euclidian geometry on the property

Source: Housing New Zealand