Saturday, December 8, 2018

Waikato Times letter of the week #87

From the edition of Saturday 8 December. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.

This one concerns the Waitaha people, who according to Barry Brailsford were here before the Maori. Michael King demolished Brailsford’s first book about this in Metro in 1995 (and later in his 2003 Penguin History of New Zealand). Soon after, Bob Harvey, then Waitakere mayor, made me spend two hours in Brailsford’s company being harangued about the Waitaha and the evils of Michael King. Until then I had considered Bob a friend.
History teaching backed
Pou brings wars to school yard. Guest speaker Sir Harawira Gardiner status – “a fundamental building block of any civilised society is an understanding of its history.” For 150 years, the New Zealand wars had “Danced in the Shadows” of mainstream learning”.
If we are to teach New Zealand history, be it war history, or general history, then it is our responsibility to start at the beginning, not halfway as mentioned. Go back to when man first set foot on New Zealand soils. The real tangata whenua of New Zealand, the Kahupungapunga/Patupaiarehe/Waitaha peoples.
What became of them, and why are these people and their history being deliberately suppressed even today. “Who are we to deny them their rights to be heard, and to be remembered”.
Many of their descendents are still living here today.
G B Burling, Wahi

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Warwick Roger-Stephen Stratford chronicles

My 14-year-old daughter wants to redecorate her room so I dug out some photos of Murray Grimsdale’s exhibition at the Denis Cohn Gallery in 1977.  Murray painted the walls with fruiting bananas, agapanthuses and portraits of his wife May, subject of most of the paintings on show, one of which is outside the daughter’s bedroom. Rooting these photos out, I discovered a correspondence between me and Metro’s founding editor Warwick Roger

I was a contributor to Metro from early on. Memory has it that I had a freelance piece in issue #3 in 1981 but that can’t be right (I have never kept clippings) as I was at the Listener then. At least, I think I was. I do have a clear memory of visiting Warwick in the magazine’s early days in his tiny office perched perilously above Grafton Road: his knees were almost up against his chin while I sat in a canvas chair opposite his desk. Later we would sometimes meet by chance in Airedale Street near the Metro office and gossip, as journalists do. Almost as much as lawyers. Eventually I received this letter:

11 November 1985
Dear Stephen
Sorry it has taken so long to come back to you – busy time of the year and all that. Sorry too that I have no need for brief book reviews. Kingi [Michael King, then the main book reviewer] seems to be in good heart and you well know that Metro never does anything briefly.
Yes, you were right about Laurel & Hardy (Mannion and Adams). What happened? [This is about the magazine New Outlook I edited when it was left-wing but had since become a cheerleader for Michael Fay.] Please tell. The Ferret (to say nothing of our lawyers) needs to know. I’ll call you in a day or so.
Warwick Roger

4 April 1986
Dear Stephen
How nice of you to offer me the chance of gracing my organ with the Vincent O’Sullivan short story. I would be happy to do so provided that Mr O’Sullivan doesn’t have a contract of any kind with the litigious Mr Mannion. Could you please confirm that in your capacity as literary agent to the stars?
Incidentally, do you have any information for The Ferret about what happened in the bitter internecine struggle between Mannion and Adams? Answers on a postcard to : The Editor, Metro, P.O. Box 6842, Wellesley Street or in a secret phone call. You will be rewarded in another life.
Thank you for your kind words about North and South.
When you’ve convinced me that there is no legal impediment to publishing your client’s story and when you furnish me with his personal address, I will write and formally accept the story and send him a tax form.
Warwick Roger

12 May 1986
Dear Stephen
Do you want a job?
Warwick Roger

22 May 1986
Dear Stephen
Thank you for your distracted letter of May 17.
I am pleased to learn of your desire to become involved with my organ and although your demands, especially for money, are absolutely outrageous, Mr Palmer and I have reluctantly decided to accede to them except in the matter of the BMW.
As Mr Palmer is unable to write coherently at present you will, I am afraid, have to do with a letter of appointment from me.
Yes, we’ll pay the amount you suggest. Four weeks’ holiday a year to be taken at times that are mutually convenient. I intend to take a week off in August and three weeks in January during which times you are welcome to be me, so it wouldn’t be convenient for you to take your holidays then. By the time you get this letter you may have learned of certain developments in the ownership of Metro department. These developments will ensure the continuation of your fortnightly paycheck.
If it’s convenient for you, why don’t you start on Monday 21 July?
I look forward to getting a call from you confirming the start date.
I think you’ll enjoy being associated with this organ.
Yours faithfully,
Warwick Roger
P.S. I don’t mind you doing the occasional Listener book review.

I stayed at Metro as deputy editor until early 1993 when I left to start the books/arts monthly magazine Quote Unquote and lose all my money. The Metro days were good times, mostly. Every morning I looked forward to going to work, and that was because of Warwick, mostly. He could be a total prick at times, but he was brilliant. I’ll take a brilliant prick over a competent dullard any day.

And here is one of the photos of that Murray Grimsdale exhibition:

Sadly it is in black and white so you miss the lovely delicate colours, but you do get to see a rear view of Peter Wells descending the stairs. Peter worked at the gallery then; neither of us can recall who the photographer was. Possibly Sally Tagg: the photo is identified only as “05997/34a”.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Money for writers #7

A new foundation established by the Auckland Writers Festival offers up to 10 one-off grants of $2000-5000.

The Matatuhi Foundation will provide opportunities for writers to develop and promote their works, and will fund activities that contribute to literacy.

Festival chair Pip Muir says, “When the Festival began almost 20 years ago, meetings were held around a kitchen table.”

Yes, they were. The first few were at Tessa Duder’s kitchen table in Herne Bay. Subsequent subcommittee meetings – we had a lot of subcommittees – were held at, among other places, Sarah Sandley’s kitchen table in Parnell and Sarah Fraser’s kitchen table in Balmoral.

“Since then,” says Muir, “the appetite to engage with writers from New Zealand and around the world has grown exponentially and with it the opportunity to deepen our commitment to our literary landscape. It is absolutely fantastic that the Festival has reached a point where it can further contribute to the national reading and writing community.”

Yes it is, given how we struggled financially in the early years.

Inaugural chair Anne Blackburn says, “I very much look forward to receiving applications from groups that seek to engage more readers and also from our writers, whose words and ideas enrich our lives.”

The Foundation website says it will fund projects that:
Relate to New Zealand literature (fiction, non-fiction, poetry)
Demonstrate innovation
Deliver broad community benefit outcomes
Use innovative and cost-effective platforms including digital
Are new or business expansion projects rather than business as usual
Represent well considered, robust propositions with identified, achievable and measureable deliverables

It says it will generally not cover:
Business-as-usual activities
Ongoing operational or staff overheads
International travel
Projects that can access full funding elsewhere
Projects connected to the annual Auckland Writers Festival.

The deadline for applications is 31 October. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Money for writers #6

The Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship invites applications for 2019. This offers the opportunity to write full-time, free from financial pressure with a stipend of $20,000 for the full year (less if the fellowship is shared, obviously), and stay in rent-free accommodation in the Sargeson flat in Albert Park, between Queen Street and the University of Auckland. Any published New Zealand writer is eligible.

When I was on the Sargeson Trust fellows had access to the university library as well as the nearby Auckland Central library: I am not sure if this still applies.

It is a great fellowship and I can strongly recommend the accommodation, having lived in the flat one August. Back then it was the same bed that Janet Frame, the first Sargeson fellow, had slept in, but we replaced it years ago. This involved me and Graeme Lay test-bouncing on double beds in Farmers at St Lukes Mall. Eyebrows were raised.

Applications close on Friday 5 October, with the tenure due to start on 1 April 2019. You can download the application form here, and there is further information on the fellowship here. There is also a very good book about the whole thing available here.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Money for writers #5

The University of Waikato invites applications for the position of Writer in Residence for 2019. The salary is $52,000. Yes, $52,000. Hooray for the University of Waikato, and also for Creative New Zealand, which is joint funder of the residency. (Hooray for Lotto, too, because that’s where the CNZ money comes from.)

The position is open to writers of serious non-fiction, dramatists, novelists, short story writers and even poets. It helps to have a record of previous publications of high quality and, in my experience of assessing similar applications, it really helps to make a good case for why this particular residency would help with your project. Associate Professor Sarah Shieff, who runs the programme, tells me: “We’re especially interested in applications from mid-career writers with strong track records in creative writing and creative non-fiction.” 

As well as the $52K you get an office with computer in the School of Arts and access to the university library. There are no teaching or lecturing duties, but “it is expected that the Writer will participate in the cultural life and vibrancy of the university”.

Also, you can stay at the Michael King Writers’ Retreat in Opoutere for up to two weeks. A fortnight in Coromandel all paid for!

On the other hand, “The Writer is expected to live in Hamilton during the tenure of the award.” So, swings and roundabouts.

The link to the vacancy is here. Full information (including a profile of the current writer in residence, Therese Lloyd) is here.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

In memoriam Warwick Roger

Portrait by Annelies van der Poel.

For family reasons I was unable to attend the funeral in Devonport last Friday of Warwick Roger, who died on 16 August. His death was not a surprise but knocked me sideways all the same. My plan had been to write a report of who was there and what was said in the eulogies, and write a bit about my experiences as an early contributor to Metro and later its deputy editor for seven years, because I thought the published obituaries (apart from this one after the event by Karl du Fresne) were rushed and didn’t do him justice. Fortunately Adrian Blackburn was there and posted this account on Facebook the next day, which does do Warwick justice. I reproduce it here with his kind permission.

A banner of Auckland bylines at Warwick Roger’s funeral on a bleak Devonport afternoon. Just in my short row near the back of the crowded rugby club: Geoff Chapple, Donna Chisholm, Louise Callan, Armin Lindenberg.
Hundreds more there, colleagues, rivals, friends, family and acquaintances, for the most satisfying such occasion I can recall, a well-structured, literate and bracingly honest tribute to a difficult, quirky, brave and meticulous man whose talents and drive changed New Zealand’s media landscape and, more importantly, the way Auckland sees itself.
Longtime friend Spiro Zavos, in loyalty and grief, over-egged the omelette of Warwick’s talents to the point where I suspect the man himself would have cringed. But from Nicola Legat, Rhys Harrison and Warwick’s daughters came a more balanced and thoughtful clarity about his complexities and qualities as a professional, a father and a friend.
Warwick Roger’s wildly successful Metro of the Eighties was not diminished in its impact by owing much to established American city magazines, especially New York magazine.
He built on that formula, making Metro an individual creation which another editor, without Warwick’s sense of being an outsider from the wrong side of the tracks and needing to prove himself, could not have achieved. It gave him that drive to see his city in the whole, to clearly assess its faults and glories, and with a big fingers to the establishment to tell other Aucklanders the uncompromised stories of its reality.
The timing was perfect. An expansive and excessive Auckland was feeling its oats. And Warwick was the journo for the job. His words as a feature writer always wanted more space than the 1500 to 2000-word limits dictated by newspaper features sections. In a swiftly bulging Metro he was able to give his talented writers — mainly women — room to roam on the toughest stories, then edit them with taste and precision.
Long before the supercity was formalised he gave the Rangitoto Yanks a sort of perverse licence to now welcome characterisation by those south of the Bombays as Just Another Fucking Aucklander.
I think he would have been pleased, and perhaps a little astonished, at the turnout yesterday. But journalism is a strange trade which, if you ply it long enough in a city, brings you into contact with thousands. Many have been touched by Metro’s stories, or have worked for it or rival publications. Acquaintances mainly, much more often than friends, though the work often brings you into a brief sort of intimacy with colleagues.
I got the impression yesterday that this was very much the case for Warwick. I only ever knew him as a fellow feature writer, though a few years back, when his Parkinsons was already quite advanced, I recall sitting beside him for quite a spell and chatting at an Auckland Star reunion.
We did share a passion for running. We both ran our first marathon, a lap of Lake Rotorua, on the same mid-Eighties day. In running terms Warwick was a gazelle, I a warthog. But I fancied he was likely to write a piece for the Star on his experience, so I raced to do my own for the Herald and have it published a week ahead of his. A spurious sort of victory, I guess, but satisfying at the time.
Warwick was intensely competitive. Parkinsons must have been doubly cruel, robbing him of that wonderful freedom running at peak fitness can give, and then of his capacity to write.
The terrible toll that prolonged decline, over more than 20 years, also took on the love and loyalty of his family — and particularly his wife Robyn Langwell — in keeping him at home until the end became clear yesterday.
I had come direct to the funeral from over an hour with a friend now facing a similar toll with a wife just diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was keen to have me share some of my own experience in a similar case. I said to him: “Life can be a bastard.”
I’m sure Warwick would have felt unfairly picked on by life. But I’m also sure that if yesterday something of him was hovering above that plain coffin, his outsider’s eye would have picked up on all sorts of detail he might have put into his notebook.
He would have approved the photo on the screen of him and one of his beloved cats, their shared expression. He would have noted who was there. But more importantly who was not. He would have seen poet and fellow Devonport resident Kevin Ireland and winced at the thought of the letter of apology he once sent to Kevin. (I urged Kevin later at drinks that he frame the letter and hang it above his honorary Doctorate of Literature: “That letter is much more rare than any doctorate.”)
He would also have winced at being described as “useless” at his much loved cricket but appreciated his former president’s-grade team mates carrying his coffin out to the hearse.
He would have grinned when the female hearse driver opened the vehicle’s side door to check the casket was secure, revealing she had her handbag stashed in the gap below the coffin’s platform.
His literary self would have appreciated the single clang of what looked like an old-fashioned school bell to attract the attention of the crowd before the hearse glided slowly away. “For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for thee.”
And then, as the rest of us made our way around the road to the cricket club nearby for the after-match, I imagined him, miraculously restored, running again, striding out freely, almost floating, away from us, over the winter grass of the park, destination unknown.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Waikato Times letter of the week #86

From the edition of Tuesday 7 August. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.

There haven’t been many of these recently: I apologise for this break in service, but since the paper adopted a tabloid format there has been a reduction in letters printed. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, I assume: I shall ask the editor when I see him at the second meeting of the Hamilton Press Club on Friday.   
Response to letter writer
If I understand Hugh Webb (letter to the editor, July 21), there are four reasons to call for a more balanced reporting misdirected. First, Donald Trump, of course! Then the fact that all information can be found anyway. But where and why would anyone try to find willingly such atrocious accounts of failed humanity? Third, half of the population is too dumb to deserve some quality news. Really? And fourth, people are too selfish and self-centred to be given a chance to make “an intelligent assessment of political issues”. But isn’t the right to vote given to those who are 18, whatever their IQ or their ability to get interested in other people’s lives and problems? Even if there were a certain amount of truth in all these four points, isn’t it worth it to play the democratic challenge of informing people properly and then letting them decide what action to take? Indeed, bashing people with half-cooked analysis and uninteresting facts that waste the public time and the hard earn right to give and be given valuable elements of reflection won’t help shape our society for the better, but might do it for the worse.
Michael Bahjejian, Hamilton  

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Digging a hole

This letter from the latest issue of the London Review of Books ticks every box for me: it is from the Orkneys; it is about a vegetable garden in Takapuna; it cites Hera Lindsay Bird and Frank Sargeson; and it quotes Maurice Duggan and Kevin Ireland. The Rod Edmond who provoked this is Lauris Edmond’s nephew.

What to Do with a Quarter-Acre
Rod Edmond suggests Hera Lindsay Bird is pulling my leg when she claims not to know of ‘New Zealand’s old Labour Day custom of digging a hole in one’s back garden’ (Letters, 5 July). I reckon it’s Edmond who’s doing the leg-pulling. I’ve never seen mention of such a custom in any literary or historical context, and none of the New Zealand writers with whom I have discussed ‘The Hole that Jack Dug’ has heard of it either.
Jack was based on a friend of Sargeson’s called Bill Anso. ‘Anso used to dig holes everywhere,’ the poet Kevin Ireland wrote to me. ‘He would see a spade and he’d grab it and dig. If all men shared Anso’s compulsion, the planet would be like gruyère cheese.’ Anso’s obsession was briefly normalised in the early years of the Second World War, when fears of a Japanese attack drove many New Zealanders to dig bomb shelters in their gardens.
Another ‘Son of Sargeson’, Maurice Duggan, wrote vividly about Labour Day on the North Shore in the postwar era:
Up and down this crumbly hill the lawnmowers are whirring, the radios are chanting comments, winners, prices, from the ‘tots’; the glare strikes up, the dust blows: the air is rich with the smell of all those roast dinners eaten at high noon; “dad” is undoubtedly off somewhere, sleeping with the newspaper over his face: the pubs, like any football scrum, one knows, are packed tight.
So no hole-digging.
Contrary to Edmond’s further suggestion, Sargeson’s garden was far from the norm. Quarter-acres in up and coming suburbs like Takapuna were typically laid out to lawns, with only limited flower and vegetable beds. Sargeson was extremely unusual in cultivating every square inch for food production. His garden literally kept him alive at many points. So desperate was he to wring every ounce of goodness from the land that he even treated the council-owned berm between the front of his section and the roadway as an opportunity to grow long grass for scything and composting. This was yet another irritation to his tidy-minded neighbours, who felt that New Zealand’s greatest writer was lowering the tone of Takapuna.
Duncan McLean
Stenness, Orkney

For some years I grew capsicums that were descended from Sargesons plants, as Kevin Ireland had collected and saved the seeds. I have lost them and their descendants now, but it was nice while it lasted.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hamilton Press Club #1: Alison Mau

The Wintec Press Club is dead. Long live the Hamilton Press Club!

The full story of the change is here. Full credit to Steve Braunias for the revival, fuller credit to Sri Lankan dynamo Chamanthie Sinhalage and fullest credit of all to Brian Squair of Chow:Hill architects who has stepped in as sponsor to keep alive the idea of a national press club in Hamilton.

The new premises are Gothenburg, a restaurant on the riverbank beside the museum with two fully glazed walls looking over the Waikato river. It is a lovely room – or, as architects say, “space”.
The speaker was Sunday Star-Times columnist Alison Mau: here is the column she published nextTrigger warning: contains Meghan Markle.

In his introductory speech which strived to praise Hamilton, Braunias said the city had two safe Tory seats – here he glared at Tim McIndoe, MP for Hamilton West – and a succession of “deadshit mayors”. Bit harsh on Julie Hardaker, the previous incumbent, I thought, but then I am not a ratepayer there.

Playing to the groundlings, he made several slurs against Tauranga. Steve is from Mount Maunganui, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I have never understood the chippiness of those from that side of the Tauranga harbour against those of us from the better side, but here we are. Chow:Hill has long had an office in Tauranga, not the Mount, and designed the Tauranga police station, so I feel the sponsor is with me on this. 

Jonathan Mackenzie, genial editor of the Waikato Times, introduced me to Sinead Bouchier, Fairfax CEO: she seemed nice but then I don’t work for her. I praised his paper’s new look and he praised my old magazine Quote Unquote, wondering if his collection of magazines might be worth a few bob now. (I wish.)

There were eight tables of 12, possibly one or two extras squeezed in, so perhaps 100 guests. At my table were the poet Therese Lloyd (current Waikato University writer in residence) whom I heard read beautifully at the launch of Vincent O’Sullivan’s All This By Chance),  short-story writer Tracey Slaughter, editor Vanessa Manhire, and what seemed to be the entire staff of Sunday magazine. Also present: Mihingarangi Forbes, Annabelle Lee, Te Radar, Rachel Stewart, Lisa Lewis and half a dozen or so journalism students from the Wintec course.

We had canapes (e.g. “Arancini, turmeric roasted cauliflower, smoked gouda, confit garlic aioli”), tapas (e.g. “Spicy Kim Chi and pork dumplings, Octovin, peanuts, coriander”) and dessert (“Chocolate cups, Belgian chocolate mousse, banana toffee, hazelnut praline”). All this, and constantly flowing Prosecco.

The invitation said that speaker Alison Mau “will discuss the Stuff #metoo investigation. A freewheeling Q&A session will follow, also drinking.” After Braunias’s introduction, Mau’s opening words were: “Thank you Stephen but fuck, the inaccuracies in that speech!” Well, she is an Australian by birth and upbringing so I suppose some coarseness was to be expected.

She couldn’t tell us much about Stuff’s #metoo investigation  because, understandably, her bosses had told her not to. They want the story, when published, to be a scoop, not live-tweeted in advance by every non-Fairfax journalist in the room. But she could – and did – have a crack at David Cohen for his NBR column about the project. She kept calling him “Dave”.  He is no more a Dave than I am a Steve. He had been invited but sadly could not make it. Pity. Would have been a livelier Q&A session. David is one of those rare people who can dish it out and take it.

But Mau did say – or as Stuff would say, “reveal” – that 400 people, some of them men, have contacted her team in the last three months, most of them terrified of losing their job if identified, even if only their company was named. And she made the very good point that only support from a large media firm can make this kind of long-term investigative reporting possible.

Question time. Jarrod Gilbert asked if Mau thought that Blackstone’s formula, “the foundation of Western democracy”, no longer applies. It all got a bit Auckland Writers Festival from here, frankly: no one understood the question, Mau tried to answer and He Would Not Give Up. Kept banging on about Blackstone’s principle or, occasionally for variation, Blackstone’s formula. Mau explained that what she and her team were doing was a journalistic investigation, not part of the the justice system.

Mau hinted darkly that one newspaper columnist had accused her of offering counselling to people who contacted her. She wouldn’t say who, but it was a woman.

Like its much-mourned Wintec predecessor, the Hamilton Press Club was a convivial occasion and I met poets, journalists, editors, academics and some normal people. Best of all, I met Lippy Linguist who writes about language at SciBlogs. Here she is on the deep history of numbers and counting.
Yan, Tan, Tethera, Methera, Pimp, Sethera, Lethera, Hovera, Dovera, Dik (10);Yan Dik, Tan Dik, Tethera Dik, Methera Dik, Bumfit (15); Yan Bumfit, Tan Bumfit, Tethera Bumfit, Methera Bumfit, Jigget (20).When the shepherd got to twenty he would raise his index finger and start again. When he had all five fingers up it would mean he had got to 5 x 20, or one hundred. Then he would put a stone in his pocket and start again.
Harrison Birtwistle got an opera out of that, Yan Tan Tethera (sadly not recorded so not on CD, DVD or YouTube).

The one musical guest I spotted was James Milne, aka Lawrence Arabia. So here, as a place holder for Harrison Birtwistle, is Lawrence Arabia with “The Listening Times”:

Friday, May 4, 2018

Spectator sentence of the week

I can’t decide between these two from the 28 April issue so here are both.

A.N. Wilson writes in the Diary about his friend Jill Hamilton, who died recently:
When she fell in love with a younger man who was a Catholic priest, a hitherto dormant interest in religion was born, though it became a little bitter when she learned he was two-timing her with a nun.
Daniel Hannan in a review of Robert Saunders’ Yes to Europe: the 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain quotes this on a county cricket match in a cold snap before polling day:
When play resumed the next day, conditions were so treacherous that one batsman removed his false teeth, wrapped them in a handkerchief and handed them to the umpire, Dicke Bird, for safekeeping.