Sunday, 17 January 2016

Back to my roots and searching for Seddon

Lectures going OK though I'm still too deaf to hear all the student reactions. Most of them seem what students were when I was  here the first time fifty years ago, middle class, status indicated by many apple computers-the biggest and the best-facing me as I lecture and by one lad who came up at the end to correct me about Fisher & Paykel on the grounds that his dad is Finance Director. I'd told the story of my Fisher & Paykel fridge as an illustration of the difficulty in penetrating new markets. Purchased in London and carted up to Grimsby (all of 200 miles)  I'd used it as a New Zealand show case proudly demonstrating its gleaming lines to awed visitors as an example of NZ's best  (though I later learned it was made in Australia). Then, suddenly it conked. Could Fisher  Paykel bring it back to life? They couldn't. No service outside London. Just the kind of difficulty British car manufacturers had faced in selling cars in the EU. So I rabbited on about firms transferring production to the larger market and the son torpedoed me by pointing out that F&P hadn't. Only fridges had gone to Oz (where they need them). The rest stayed in NZ though they'd left Dunedin and moved to Auckland.

But the point came home to me. I'm living in middle class NZ not the real dinkum Kiwiland..Middl class house. Middle class suburb. Middle class friends. Visits to Sumner rather than New Brighton. Time to begin the hunt for King Dick Seddon. Is he still here? 
Is this still  God Zone or are we in Sauvignon Blanc land?

So we went, I hoped, West but ended up in Hanmer Springs which is about as working class as Cheltenham. In fact its streets are called Harrogate, Cheltenham and Bath as it sets out to be a cross between  Denver Colorado and the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.It had more tourists than inhabitants and all of them the middle class I was trying to get away from. I could tell because they all wore long trousers not shorts like me, and none of them carried ruck sacks so they couldn't have been Kiwis.

I remembered not to drop my haitches or say "She'll be right" and we stayed in a superb up-market motel, the St James, run by a Kiwi adaptable  who'd been agricultural counsellor at the embassy in London under Bryce Harland, then Chairman of the Plunket society, now retired to motel keeping and doing it very well.

We went to the Springs. Much better and a lot less smelly than the Blue Lagoon with several pools at varying degrees of temperature (we chose 28 degrees because people were lolling unconscious in anything over 30). First swim for me since California months ago.

Then on over the Lewis pass to Seddonland or more exactly Reefton- sad and struggling  but wonderful to visit with a mining museum which must be the biggest collection of bric-a-brac outside ebay (they don't have ebay here in NZ) and all the mines closed except a new gold mine which is proposed but will only employ 8 people.,a Zen shop (closed-no demand) two fish and chip shops and a superb town hall and a masonic hall both apparently empty. People talked but most of them were pissed and all said they loved it but it must be like living in the Falklands with  nothing for youth to do and nothing for anyone else either except drink and porn, the burial tools of decline. 

Beautiful but sad and no trace of Seddon. You could buy a house here for 90,000 dollars (fifty thousand quid) pull down the blinds and abdicate from the world. We chose to move on instead. First to Blackball-even sadder with the Blackball Hilton for sale,no facilities at all and a lovely little museum open to the world but uncurated. This is  the birth place of the NZ Labour Party. Still no trace of Seddon. Or anyone else in fact.

Then on to Greymouth, fifty shades thereof and all of them pretty black-though pretty is perhaps the wrong world. What a dump. Nothing to do and no one to do it with. The only attractive place was a new jetty with plaques commemorating all the people who've drowned crossing the bar (not Monteith's) No miner's hall. Nothing open.  We decided to move on and back to safe middle class land over in Canterbury.

Via Arthur's pass where we discovered the Top Kea Con. The main cafe has outside eating tables. Take out your sandwiches (all encased in gleaming plastic) and the Keas fly in and pinch them. Go back in to protest and the signs say no replacement if the Kea steal your sandwiches. As they stole mine. Calculate for ten stolen sandwiches at $4 -50 a pack and the cafe is clearly making a fortune from letting you feed their birds.

If they had to replace them as collateral damage then they'd have machine guns at either end of the verandah and arm every customer with lethal weapons to kill the bastard birds. But that would be cruelty to animals and reduced profits. Much more profitable to let the bustards feed on you. At least it stops them feeding on the rubber from engine casings and windscreen wipers. 

 There is some social justice. Keas don't pinch the people's pies. Probably because they're soggy and would fall apart in the air.So it's the snobs' sandwiches in their gleaming packets that attract them.

Back to Christchurch in the pouring rain. Hire purchase hedonism has clearly replaced socialism Seddon has been relegated to the declining west coast and Kea Hardie is reduced to pinching sandwiches. It's all very sad. And wet. On to lecture Five. Blackball and after.

Just read a great book. "Not our problem", self published by its author  Ian Cowan a very funny account of the mess National created by putting businessmen in charge of the health service to make it more businesslike and save money. Lots of new mangers, accountants, lawyers and PR men but fewer beds and nurses and longer waiting lists. It deserved to sell but self publication is hard work. If Jesus had self published the bible we'd still be reading Woman's Weekly.

Best joke of the week The amazing Marina Hyde describes the engagement of Jerry Hall and Rupert Murdoch as Jerry and the Pacemaker.  It's the way I tell 'em.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Important rules and warnings for immigrants to New Zealand

You're daft if you don't come but we don't want the place overcrowded. Then take note of the following facts

l)Wakefield's notes for intending colonists advises you to bring a pre-packed house with you. The firm he mentions has probably gone out of business since the 1840s but do remember, as a note for  Erskine fellows from the University of Canterbury puts it "New Zealand houses are not like British or American Houses" Why?  No Central heating and no insulation. Bet they're bloody cold in winter

2) They all say they've got wi-fi but haven't. What they've got is pretend wifi for which they pay by use ( So many megabytes a month-with a cap which is another rip off because its no extra cost to them whether you use 100 megabytes a month or 8,000 watching pornography. You can burn through your cap in a week end-or ten minutes if you've got kids) as if you had to pay for the water by how many baths you have (therefore free for the English settlers) where we pay for broadband as a facility twenty quid or so a month along with the phone, TV and probably a shoe cleaning service. Broadband providers should be renamed broadband exploiters aka greedy bastards

3) Charlotte Godley points out that if you bring a cow it will eat local weeds and die next day. That was 1850 when cows travelled free with their owners. Now you have to pay so many mega cows a berth so it"s not worth bringing any.

4) Remember books are dear so bring as many as possible with you and charge neighbours to borrow them. It's difficult to buy books because NZ second hand sellers don't seem to be on ABE and prices given there are in US dollars with huge American postal charges. Even more difficult to buy direct from the publisher. I wanted a book about Ch Ch hospital. Scorpio books had a waiting list of 2 and no books. Rang publisher to get a message that she's overseas and a recommendation to ring another number. Rang that. She's away. Sent an e mail to the author. No answer..Looks like I'll have to wait for the second hand market at three times the published price in five years time.

5) If you've any interest in buying antiques bring them with you.  The word translates here as bric a brac and distressed at that. I tried to get a picture of Richard John Seddon. One used to hang in every old person's house. Now people look blank and ask who's he?

6) Always wear dark glasses. The light is so bright its cateracts in two days if you don't. Makes it difficult to tell the difference between tourists and the mafia but you don't want to end up blind and begging on the streets. No one will see you. 

7) Don't pay in advance for anything from Dick Smith 

8) If  you'd like a selfie with Prime Minister John Key a free service is available

9) Drop no litter, smoke no fags and always sort the rubbish and put it in the appropriate wheelie bin. It's all examined by the NZ Security Intelligence Service  and plastic in a bin for paper can lead to arrest and summary execution

10) More later. You'll love it. In fact you've got to if you value your teeth. Which you should do. Dentistry is so expensive. 

Life begins again as a University teacher

It all went well.Fears of getting back to lecturing after years of political harangues unjustified. No sneezing or coughing attacks. No false teeth falling out or clicking aimlessly. Class seemed to understand what were jokes and what was serious and laughed at most of the jokes. They seemed to take it in and some even took it down on their computers. Which may be unnecessary because it was all on video. The one thing which didn't work was my invitation to heckle and ask questions ( I need some practice there) because when one man did I couldn't hear what he was saying  being as deaf as a post. He had to come down and shout it in my ear and even then I didn't really understand. So much for interaction. Deafness is a virtue in politics a nuisance in universities.

It's a bit different to what it was in days of yore. I was miced up. There's a loop in the lecture theatre so when I put my hearing aid in I could actually hear, the students listen  and they are more articulate. They want to discuss it afterwards rather than just sitting there writing it down. The class is 28 strong-good for a summer school they say-most about to graduate and picking up a final unit some trying to finish in two years while working. No oldies like the part timers who used to be far more numerous -if only because so many of them were AMP salesmen trying to sell policies to university teachers. I would say brighter. Certainly more inclined to talk and ask questions.

Format is one hour of me yammering (I manage to overun) Break for tea provided by the department.Then small group discussion on an issue arising. Then groups report back (and I sometimes manage to hear what they're saying) Then wind up by me re-iterating what I've already said. 

I could get to enjoy this. Pity they don't have an employment policy for geriatrics. Government should impose one because we come cheap. Bronwyn Hayward organises it all and sees that I turn up at the right time and place (by taking me there). No one carps or criticises because no one else is around the university being closed. It comes back next week.

Then at the end they have to write something which they say is put through the Plaigarism detector  to ensure that they aren't taking chunks out of text books. Good job they don't do that with the lectures. Jonathan Hari would go undetected here.  I don't see however how this could stop employing people to write essays and reports for them. There must be thousands in some Bangalore bungalow who'd do that for a small fee.The best safeguard is the fact that no one's written the kind of coverage I'm giving or combining Poms and Kiwis in the same unholy mixture, though recent NZ stuff is better covered by Bridget Williams little books than back in the UK where there's only Ian Dale to publish the big stuff.

Lectures Tuesdays and Thursdays and after Thursdays I invited everyone back to the house which is just round the corner and most came for a drink. Me for several to recover. That was a university tutorial as they should be sitting round in the sun though no one could do the old New Zealand trick of taking off crown corks with their teeth. Which makes me think that dentistry is now unsubsidised.(though note that the Press reports a case of a man biting the head off a live chicken) Nice group-the students not the headless chickens. . But very non-political There is they tell me a Labour club (we founded one in 1965) but it must be stored in a basement somewhere.

Now I'm two lectures down 10 to go and several of them still to write. It's going to be a big job. In between we've not been out much though we did go yesterday to Governor's bay then Sumner (where I didn't fall down) and finally Taylor's mistake. Linda asked  someone what was Taylor's mistake?"Coming here!" was the reply. Where all the other beaches are pretty empty this was crowded with huge surf and flocks of lifeguards trying unsuccessfully to get people to swim between flags. It was a bit like Blackpool with waves-and a nice blue sea instead of a grey sludge."the most dangerous beach in the world" one person told us. It also had the most dangerous toilets with no lock on the door and no seat .

Weather good. In fact too hot for Poms pale and pinkly loitering. 

Linda tells me she understands Christchurch's street map because it's a grid pattern though that hasn't stopped us going through the Lyttleton tunnel three times because we took the wrong direction. 

I don't mind Lyttleton is lovely . A bit of old NZ perfectly preserved in a time warp. The tourist information centre had some nice paintings by a local artist but the lady in  charge hadn't the foggiest idea how much they cost "She'll be here this afternoon. Can you wait?" Couldn't tell us much else either. Like walks or where roads went. Perhaps no one wants to leave Lyttleton so there's no need to know.Perhaps the same attitude prevails in  Christchurch because the street signing is awful Always gives you distant destinations like Timaru when you want to get to Riccarton but not go via Timaru.

Gloomy note to end on. I've just read that if you have more than nine glasses of wine a week you're dead. I can feel rigor mortis coming over me already. Must now have two or three boozeless days a week. Can I manage more than a couple of hours?

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Today is my first lecture in the Great Unravelling summer school. Politics not knitting. All over Christchurch the self chosen ones are sharpening their pencils while I try to sharpen up my brain to make a success of Canterbury's Geriatric Employment Programme to put former lecturers back to useful work. In my case there's a 53 year gap since I first arrived, one of the three musketeers who started the Political Science Department in the year of our Lord Erskine1963, Jim Flynn who's a brain rather than a person and now a world figure, John Pocock a NZer who managed to be more English than the English who took up a major chair in the US, and me who having taught the political theoreticals went on to fail the practicals at Westminster.

Frantic days with me reading the books only days ahead of the students so that everything they wanted out of the library was in my office and the department moving out of the History Department in the old university building (now an Arts Centre) into a long shed behind the old peoples home. None of whom did Pol Sci having lived through it.

Sunday we made a second visit to Akaroa for lunch with Bronwyn Hayward who's my new boss and is preparing the lectures and printing all the fact sheets I've drawn up. She has a Bach out there which has an old Austin seven dating from 1937 in the garden. Last visit was sunny. This time it poured all day though that didn't stop Akaroa being parked up and crowded out with the hordes walking up and down in raincoats looking miserable. No trips to swim with the dolphins who're presumably having a rest day. Bet they wish they'd swum for us. Bronwyn invited Fionna Farrell,brilliant writer to lunch with us. Fiona is pissed off with what they're doing to the country

More kids are drowning because they're closing school swimming pools and the pools in the rivers that people used to swim in have dried up because the farmers have taken all the water for irrigation while the burgeoning cow population pollutes it.So fewer kids can swim.More drown. Everything is being changed by commercialisation and the Labour Party has no answers and no ideology so it doesn't know what to do. 

She and her husband have cabins in another bay which they rent out for six months of the year and try to get away for the winter months so she's amazingly well read and informed another Kiwi autodidact who's just written another book on Christchurch and the earthquake. She gave me a copy and I read it over night. It's brilliant,poetic almost but bringing out the blundering incompetence of ministers and the cruel evasions of the insurance companies . 

"The villa at the edge of the empire" is ChCh which she compares with a fourth century Roman villa the ruins of which were uncovered while she was there. It's history written as poetry and tinged with despair at the society which has dealt with the problem so badly the insurance companies who ratted and the government which took control away from local people. 

Neo-liberalism isn't designed to deal with acts of God like earthquakes. It believes people should stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions in their own wreckage so they don't fall victims to the compensation culture,an appalling and infectious disease which fortunately only hits the poor.

Indeed since free marketeers believe in creative destruction one might ask why they didn't welcome an earthquake or two! (Joke) Immediately put Fiona's book on the reading list for my lectures. Next day she appears in the Listener lamenting the effect of the rising sea on her little bay. She's like many intellectuals;as green as she's red,which makes them equivocate politically. But not her. A straightforward Labour lamenter.

Monday Helen Clark and Peter drop in for lunch on their way to Timaru then Brief visit to the Routeburn track. Helen reinforces my argument that a lot of the flooding in Yorkshire is due to draining the run off from the hills and the grouse moors  into the rivers rather than keeping it in bogs on the moors. She immediately sums it up-towns are flooded so that Grouse shooters don't have to wade through bogs. Evidently a scheme to stop the drain off on the grouse moors was vetoed by a Tory minister who owned a grouse moor himself.That,she says is happening in African countries despite the UNDP's efforts to stop it.

Can't help feeling tense reading and re-reading my lecture notes making fiddling changes in ink to the typescript which are illegible when looked at a second time,cramming in new facts and generally rendering them incomprehensible before delivery. I never got this worried when I was lecturing several times a week on subjects I knew nothing about. 

Friday, 1 January 2016

Christchurch NZ (settling in)

Not having arrived on the first four ships, or even on the first four thousand I can never become a true son of the Garden City though I may someday be allowed to trim it's hedges. But I am beginning to settle in and accept the theory they have round here that the earth is flat.

It's really a funny mixture of gleaming new buildings mostly occupied by the big accountancy houses and bomb sites which look as though they'll never be built on again surrounded by housing sprawl and trading estates. It's got the smallest Westfield Mall in the world which is also probably the biggest or only in the South Island (aka Middle Island for Otagoites). And these days it's empty apart from a few tourists desperately looking round for something to do.

The great NZ Exodus has taken place and the population has fled to the lakes, the mountains, the seaside and the campsites leaving us alone in our little white box. I used to have the theory that if any great power wanted to occupy NZ (don't worry, none did) they'd sail in immediately after Christmas, find the place deserted and occupy all the places of power. Today the Japanese appear to have followed my advice and they're not sure what to do with it.

A few basic shops like Dairies, fish and chip shops and New World are open but everything else is shut with the  SALE signs screaming out of their windows (Sale signs must be the biggest selling item in NZ commerce)  No newspapers for two days (no one notices) and the University closed until 11th January which could be a problem with my lectures beginning on 5 January.

We were saved by visitors, Carol Shand and her sister who's over from Holland and the entire Laval family from Fresno, on a grand splurge now that he's sold his business to Warren Buffett. He tells me the business is being wound down and mishandled and he and his daughter are paid but have nothing to do. The trip must have been pretty expensive with helicopter flights, bus hire and up market hotels. Indeed when we went to look for him the hotel whose name he'd given us denied all knowledge but eventually admitted to having taken over another posh hotel round the corner where they did eventually arrived after a long journey from Queenstown (which they loved) Too late for food they were sent to a restaurant along the road which turned out to be the most expensive in the world run by a German lady.

Next day we went out to Akaroa with them in their special bus to find that most of the population of Christchurch were living out there. They'd hired a boat to go swimming with the Dolphins but the Dolphins refused to show and the captain sailed us round and round muttering "This is very frustrating"looking for them. Being NZ Dolphins (billed as world class dolphins) they'd probably gone on holiday. So the women swam ,the men all dressed in wet suits  found excuses not to, we chugged round for  two hours and went back to the harbour where we were given a rebate for the no show dolphins.

For the rest we've been on our own in an empty world. New art gallery. Brilliant building, not much art on view, but a marvellous work by Grimsby painter Thomas Kennington "Relaxation" (1908) Kennington is responsible for the painting of Mayor George Doughty in Grimsby Town Hall and apparently several others I have never seen in the Doughty Collection. We google him when we get home and discover that he has become very fashionable lately and his paintings are worth many thousands of pounds. (Attention Rob Walsh)