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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Waikato Times letter of the week #85

This is for Jillian Ewart: from the edition of Tuesday 10 April. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.

Trump’s morals
I see you are still publishing reports of President Trump and his apparent poor morality. What about our prime minister who is going to have a baby out of wedlock.  Where are her morals.? What kind of example does she set for other women. But I would just imagine that her “partner” thinks that “why buy the cow if the milk is so free”. If she had told the New Zealand voters she was pregnant when she ran for office how many would have stayed away from her? So it’s best if we clean up our own backyard before we criticise others. Isn’t this supposed to be a Christian country or has that just gone by the wayside too? I know you won’t print this as it’s the truth and not “fake news”.

Jim Crain Sr

So here are the Band in 1983 with “Milk Cow Boogie”, Levon Helm on vocals, Richard Manuel on drums.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Report on experience: VUP edition

To the capital for the launch last night at the Wellington Festival of three VUP books: All This by Chance, a novel by Vincent O’Sullivan (see my 2011 report An Hour of Terror with Vincent O’Sullivan); Feverish, a memoir by Gigi Fenster; and The Facts, a poetry collection by Therese Lloyd.

This was held in the Spiegeltent. Last time I was in it I was on-stage at the Tauranga writers’ festival: my view of these events is that they are for appearing at, not attending. But for Vincent I will always make an exception and even go to Wellington. The Spiegeltent is a splendid venue, and this night it was packed: my spy on the door said there had been 190 acceptances, which is pretty good for a book launch.

At the back of the stage was a band’s gear all set up – drums, amplifiers, keyboards, the works. Damien Wilkins was in the crowd – would he and his band the Close Readers perform, I wondered. Sadly, no. He was just there to introduce the authors. Bah.

After Damien’s speech there were readings by Fenster and Lloyd which were a) good and b) brief. Then along came Vincent.

Damien had talked about how the novel conveys “the wildness of experience, its uncanniness”. Well, yes. Then: “We see how ingratiating so much contemporary fiction is – it wants to be our friend. All This by Chance is only interested in its own material.” I’m not quite sure what he meant by that but probably also well, yes.

Then Vincent spoke. Mercifully, he did not read. He thanked his publisher, Fergus Barrowman: “This is the 12th book we’ve done together and it’s almost too late to stop.” He said nice things about his editor – that would be me – and especially Steven Sedley who was his adviser on the cultural background: many of the novel’s characters over several generations are dealing with how to live in New Zealand after the Holocaust, and Steven sure knows about that. (Older readers may remember his Horizon Bookshop in Lower Hutt – one of the great independent booksellers.)

Afterwards I talked to Fiona Kidman about editors; I met my favourite New Zealand composer Ross Harris; I hung around the Unity Books desk and saw that sales of all three books looked to be brisk. And then I went to Little Penang for dinner. Can recommend.

For what it’s worth, I think All This by Chance is a great novel. Maybe the best New Zealand novel ever. So here is Led Zeppelin in 1970:

Friday, March 2, 2018

Gramophone letter of the month #1

From the February 2018 issue.
Speedy Debussy?
I was so disappointed to read Harriet Smith’s review of Stephen Hough’s wonderful new Debussy CD (January, page 64). She seems to favour fast, bright Debussy over a more romantic approach. We should never forget that Debussy composed on an upright piano covered with blankets. He didn’t like bright, virtuoso playing of his music. I heard Mr Hough on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune telling of a backstage conversation with a pianist in the 1950s. ‘My father said everyone plays L’isle joyeux too fast,’ said an elderly lady to the pianist. ‘Who was your father?’ asked the pianist. ‘Claude Debussy.’
John Kawasaki, by email

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Waikato Times letter of the week #84

From the edition of Wednesday February 21. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Media merger
The appeal to the NZ Court of Appeal by NZME (NZ Herald and Stuff) to reopen their attempt to allow the two corporations to merge their media interests, is a threat to our democracy. This merger, if it goes ahead, would allow most of the newspapers in this country to be under one editorial direction with owners all being offshore.
Profit to shareholders would be the news filter. Censorship by the oligarchy.
The arguments that will be put forward to gain this monopoly is a “media plurality” and/or “media diversity” which seems to mean that the corporations own most of the TV and radio stations as well. So big is not better than democracy but it is better for the ruling plutocracy. The loss of democracy to capitalism will exacerbate climate change and is a threat to humanity let alone democracy. Good on the Commerce Commission for closing the gate.
Peter H Wood

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wintec Press Club: Sean Plunket edition

The Wintec Press Club luncheon is staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts three times a year for the benefit of their journalism students. The guest list features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me. The MC is Steve Braunias.

It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students. I try to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something useful or lucrative. The industry veterans like it too because this is the last Press Club left standing. The speakers are usually eminent media types – last year’s speakers included musician Dave Dobbyn (whose band Th’Dudes controversially won the 1976 Battle of the Bands, ahead of me and Jenny Morris); controversial poet Hera Lindsay Bird; and controversial Herald columnist and professional angry person Rachel Stewart. This year we had Labour’s then deputy leader Jacinda Ardern. I was banned from the luncheon with the then deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, but here we are with the third meet of the year, on Friday 17 November.

The speaker this time was Sean Plunket. Back-story: born 1964; son of legendary Wellington newspaper court reporter Pat Plunket; co-presenter of Morning Report 1997-2010; more recently Director of Communications for Gareth Morgan’s vanity project, the Opportunity Party.

Guests included Don Brash and his partner Margaret Mary-Benge (whom I like because she is from Tauranga); Hamilton West Nat MP Tim McIndoe (whom I like because he is very rude about Tauranga, having lived there); Waikato Times editor Jonathan MacKenzie; Louise Wallace, “the real one not the Housewife”, she declared at one point; television persons Jono Pryor, Te Radar and Heather du Plessis-Allan; and Duncan Greive, the entrepreneur behind the Spinoff website.

Brash was runner-up for best-dressed male; the winner on the day was Barry Soper. The best-dressed female winner was a tattooed woman called Erin.

The best part of these lunches I always think is the pre-event chat. I was seated with McIndoe and MacKenzie so heard a lot from Tim about what it is like dealing with Winston Peters and from Jonathan what the future holds for Fairfax. Eye-opening, both.

In his opening remarks Braunias kicked off with: “I understand that I swear too fucking much.” He quoted my old Metro boss Warwick Roger saying there was a question every journalist should ask at least once in their career: “Are you by any chance insane?” He put that question to Sean Plunket and I don’t think he got a straight answer.

In his opening remarks Plunket kicked off with: “Duncan, lovely to see you, you fucking c—t.” This was a reference to a slight disagreement he and Grieve had during the election over (I think) whether Morgan was available for interview. Then he asked that there be no live-tweeting during his talk “because it’s fucking rude” – correct – but also because the tweets would lack context. Correct again.

He talked about his controversial tweet about Harvey Weinstein and the pile-on that followed: “If fifty people who hate you already hate what you tweeted, that is a controversy?”

The staff in the Opportunities Party all had PhDs so, he said, it was “quite nice not being the smartest guy in the room”. As far as I can tell from the internet Plunket did not attend university but went straight from school to the Wellington Polytechnic School of Journalism, so he may be more impressed by PhDs as a metric of intelligence than the rest of us. This also tells us a bit too how he regarded his colleagues at Radio NZ.

Talking about the election he was censorious about Metiria Turei: “Checkpoint has never said what were the nine questions they put to her and she resigned rather than answer them.”

And then along came Jacinda Ardern: “All the oxygen went out of the room”, he said. “Suddenly it was Bill vs Jacinda, pale stale male vs new chicky babe.”

Next, Gareth Morgan tweeted about “lipstick on a pig”. The Green Party declared war on us, he said, “largely on social media”. As he tweeted back “Bullshit, you were never going to vote for us anyway.”

There was a long rehash of the Duncan Greive/Spinoff story, which was possibly of interest to the students because of the politics/social media nexus. Then came a whole lot of politics, tax policy, snore. There was much more about Twitter and Weinstein, in which he used the phrase “wilful self-revulsion” of those outraged by it. The Broadcasting Authority, of which he was briefly a member, “was inundated with complaints – which means they had twenty. Fifteen of them were from Green Party members.”

Best line: “After 32 years in journalism you could probably use my ego as tiles on a space shuttle.”

Then came question time, during which Margaret Mary-Benge suggested that Sean Plunket, not Gareth Morgan, should lead the Opportunity Party. Plunket shyly demurred.

There was always going to be a Harvey Weinstein question. Asked if he had ever sexually harassed anyone at work, he replied, “Shit no!”

Eventually Braunias said: “We have five more questions while this train wreck lasts.”

In his wrap-up – these invariably begin with “What have we learned?” – Braunias compared Plunket’s account of working for Gareth Morgan with Pam Corkery’s chaotic account at this same event in 2014 of working for Kim Dotcom: “You kind of blamed everyone else.” About Plunket’s ban on live-tweeting his speech, he said, “There wasn’t really anything worth tweeting.”

He concluded, “Maybe the problem is when journalists stop asking the questions and think they have the answers.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I couldn’t agree more.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Spectator sentence of the year

From Dot Wordsworth’s language column about Bishop Heber’s hymn “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”:
He was a clever man and agreeable, leaving an account of the once-a-century Mallard ritual enacted on the rooftops of All Souls College, Oxford, in 1800, but dying upon taking a bath as Bishop of Calcutta, aged 42.
Are you as curious about what the “Mallard ritual” might be as I am?

Thanks to Stephanie in the comments we learn that the Mallard ritual involves the Mallard Song, which “was sung after a rude manner about 1658 about 2 or 3 in ye morning, which giving a great alarm to ye Oliverian soldiery then in Oxon they would have forced ye gate open to have appeased ye noise”. 

The lyrics may be found here at the Mallard Society’s website, which warns that the fifth verse “was expunged on grounds of decency in 1821”. If you are bold enough to explore, you will realise that “swapping” in the lyric meant something different in Middle English from what it means now. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #83

From the edition of Saturday 4 November. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Monster planet find
Today’s (November 2) page 4 headline “Kiwi leads team’s ‘monster planet’ find” once again dismisses scientific perspective as the best tool for ascertaining cosmic truth, in our search for understanding all of “existence” and our attempts to define “limits” to the universe. The article clearly establishes that the “find” of the giant planet in orbit around a small star which could not have “created” that planet, confounds the scientific perspective of how planets and solar systems are formed . . . ie, the perspective of our science highly distorts the search for actuality, when the generally accepted theory of planet and star formation is now shown to be wrong, or at least subject to exceptions, even within the tiny part of existence that perspective and science arrogantly describe as “the universe”.
Even such discoveries as this one in question, while a great credit to some of the scientific research going on in this field, also serves to show us that the philosophical and intrinsic-intuitive understanding of the reality of existence will eventually reveal far more truths of its nature than our ego-centralised scientific perspective ever will.
Dennis Pennefather
Te Awamutu  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #82

From the edition of Wednesday 18 October. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Remove limitations
Is it to do with something that in this country incredible limitations are placed upon students in schools and universities?
The terms of doctrinal demands to fit within hard and set limits, universal. To solve these problems would be an education in itself. Society can encourage exploration and excellence to feel the freedom of peace where others can understand the way we see.
We see things now in a modern context way, dictatorships and social subjection are outmoded concepts. It is for society to decide how they are ended. Replaced with organisations created by those with the wit and philosophy to allow people the gift of enjoying life.
Peter J N Garland