Friday, January 11, 2019

Waikato Times letter of the week #89

From the edition of Thursday 10 January. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.

New measures for drones
The impending danger to society was evident from the moment that private drones became a marketable commodity, but politicians world-wide have done nothing to manage their use. How must they act to recover this situation? Could they make some unpopular decisions; like grounding all private drones until compulsory countermeasures such as onboard transponders (like aircraft IFF) enabled them to be identified instantly? Or insisting that drone manufacturers provided authorities with the means to countermand the instructions sent to drones by their operators. Unfortunately, we already need measures to curb the activities of fools who cause danger with fireworks, alcohol, drugs, motor vehicles, bikes, and scooters. While they are curbing these antics, they could have a serious campaign against the low-lifes that litter our streets with fast-food and drink containers. Political success would be more achievable if they concentrated on things that they can fix, rather than melodramatic panic over climate change; which has been cycling on for millions of years. Could it be that stone-age mankind would have averted this if they had built cycle tracks? Do not hold your breath, the polling agencies that politicians rely on, continue to provide services that do not reflect reality or societal needs.
Hugh Webb, Hamilton

Monday, December 31, 2018

Hamilton Press Club #2

Sadly I was unable to attend the mid-year meet of the Hamilton Press Club, when Land Wars historian Vincent O’Malley was speaker. Press Club meets are usually decorous and respectful but apparently that one got a bit raucous when perma-polite Don Brash asked a disobliging question. Herald journalist Kirsty Johnston was there and tweeted (since deleted but the Internet doesn’t work like that) the only account of that event I have seen:

So expectations were high for the end-of-year meet with Green MP Golriz Ghahraman as speaker. Disappointingly Don wasn’t there but there were a bunch of writer friends; a bunch of journalists, mostly harmless; political operatives such as Simon Bridges, Sean Plunket, Matthew Hooton and Richie Hardcore; and one I do know, Hamilton West MP Tim McIndoe, whom I sat next to at lunch. He was admirably frank about Certain Things, but, you know, Chatham House rules.

At a front table sat Kirsty Johnston, Lizzie Marvelly and Noelle McCarthy. At the table behind them sat Sean Plunket, star of 2017’s end-of-year meet. My report is here. I thought his best line then was, “After 32 years in journalism you could probably use my ego as tiles on a space shuttle.” He also asked that there be no live-tweeting during his talk “because it’s fucking rude”. Was he live-tweeting through Ghahraman’s talk? Yes, he was.

Steve Braunias, MC of the event, clad in a tropical shirt appropriate for the humidity — a thunderstorm was imminent —.kicked off by declaring, “We’re here to be nice.” Like hell we are, I thought — we’re journalists and politicians. Next, he threw to the floor the nametags of people who were invited but had not turned up : “some c—t called Jamie Strange.” Strange is a Labour list MP and avid writer of letters to the Waikato Times. “The Labour Party begged me to invite him but the fucker didn’t turn up.”

He acknowledged the presence of Marvelly, author of The F-Word, but was critical of Marama Davidson, “author of The C-Word”, for being another non-attendee. More positively: “Hamilton Press Club is a search for meaning — and what is Hamilton but a search for meaning?” Then, sternly, to Richie Hardcore: “Stop texting or we’ll tell Paula Bennett. Won’t we, Simon.”

More positively still, he announced the  Wintec Journalism School awards: Donna-Lee Biddle won the Alumni Award for her brilliant  Waikato Times series on life in Huntly East. Rising Star was Horiana Henderson (open to employment offers, editors!). Best writer in New Zealand journalism was Madeleine Chapman who, as Braunias said, broke the story on “those wretches from World”. She expressed appreciation for his tutoring, his praising certain pieces and how much it meant: “Steve won’t hold back if he doesn’t like something we wrote.” How Matthew Hooton laughed.

A prize of a rainbow trout was presented to Noelle McCarthy and her husband John Daniell (author of the excellent rugby novel The Fixer) on the occasion of their moving to the Wairarapa. Lucky them, on both counts.

Braunias then uttered the magic words, “I think this is probably an excellent time for me to shut up.”
Ghahraman spoke mostly about identity politics. There was an awful lot about Donald Trump. An edited version of her speech notes is here, mercifully Trump-free.

Some highlights:

“I have a degree in sex. We’ll have time for questions later.” (She doesn’t really, and we didn’t.)

“It’s time to load our shotguns.” (I think this was about Twitter.)

Metiria Turei was savaged by every Pakeha male in the media “including at RNZ”. (Astonished emphasis speaker’s own.)

At question time first up was: “That was fucking awesome. How do you not cry when you’re speaking like that from the heart?”

Next, Braunias to Hooton: “Matthew, it’s interesting having a man of your calibre here. Do you have a question?”

Next, Sean Plunket, the angry white man’s angry white man, banged on at length about Metiria Turei.  Lizzie Marvelly spoke for us all: “Was there a question here?”

Ghahraman, calmly: “He’s just demonstrating my point.”

An uproar ensued, led by Marvelly and Johnston, I think, with Plunket shouting “Oh, fuck you!”, at Marvelly, I think. As angry white men go, Plunket is a large specimen. Like Walt Whitman, he is large, he contains multitudes. The sight and sound of him swearing shoutily at a woman half his size was unpleasant.

Braunias calmed it down well from the stage and questions resumed. All those that touched on Turei started from the assumption that any criticism was based on her being a woman and a Maori, not on anything she had done. Ghahraman: “Even if it’s aimed at an individual we know where it’s coming from.”

At 3.05 Richie Hardcore, the back of whose T-shirt read “Call My Lawyer”, asked a question. As soon as Ghahraman ended her reply he was back on his phone.

The last question was from Marvelly: “How do you sustain your humanity?”

Ghahraman replied, “Thank you. That means a lot, especially from someone who maintains a standard of composure online. . .  Because you’re constantly fighting for humanity, how can you lose it?”  

Stuff’s non-eyewitness report on the event is here; Newshub’s is here.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Waikato Times letter of the week #88

From the edition of Friday 13 December. As always, spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Whale stranding theory 101 
What a sad catastrophe, the beaching of so many whales around the coasts of NZ. No real reason for this periodic disaster appears to be officially found. I’d like to suggest a possible reason.
Whales send and receive sounds underwater that allow them to navigate their marine terrain and to keep in contact with their mammalian community. So one can understand their confusion/disorientation when their delicate hearing is assaulted with an enormous blast 
of sound from which there is no escape. Could this be from the navigational system of a nuclear submarine which has the capability of circumnavigating NZ under water? Our nuclear-free policy would stop any call into a port, and homeland security would stop any connection between whales beaching and a nuclear submarines presence. It’s just a suspicion not a conspiracy theory.
Peter H Wood, Thames

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