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But the light bulb has to want to change | Oct 20, 2005 11:44

It is an article of faith amongst the grumbling types that the European Union is the flag- bearer for everything that is wrong with modern bureaucracy. So stand by for another round of EU-bagging, courtesy of a joke that begins: How many men does it take to change a light bulb in a British church?

"Thanks to the European Union's "Working at Heights Directive" the answer is four -over three days at a cost of more than 1,300 pounds." This news courtesy of Reuters, who probably picked it up from this item in the Daily Torygraph.

For many years, Father Anthony Sutch of St Benet's Church in Norfolk had been getting a firm in to change the light bulbs high up in the walls of the nave. It took one man and a ladder couple of hours and cost about 200 quid.

But the one man and his ladder got a bit unreliable, so they tried a local electrical firm instead, who told them that a new set of government regulations had just come into force and they'd therefore have to do a full risk assessment before they got underway. And they'd have to use a scaffolding tower to do the job.

Result: two people took seven hours to put up and take down scaffolding to reach five light fittings.

Cost: 1300 pounds.

So what do we have here: another example of rampaging bureaucracy strangling the aspirations not only of right-thinking entrepreneurs and shareholders everywhere but now hapless parish priests as well?

Depends how relaxed you feel about people breaking their necks.

Consider this unhappy story from Iowa. A 17 year old working in a building supply store falls 18 feet from a fibreglass extension ladder. He was changing a light bulb when he dropped to the concrete floor. A few minutes earlier his boss had tried to change the bulb from the ladder without success and had decided instead to change it after work using a forklift.

You could say that job was just a matter of someone shinning up a ladder, as the Torygraph columnist grumbled about the church lights, but you don't have to fall very far to do yourself a hell of a lot of harm, and oddly enough, people seem to keep doing that.

There are two aspects to this that interest me.

The first is the matter of the language the authorities employ to deal with this kind of thing.

The other is the inordinate cost these days of getting a couple of blokes around to do a job of any kind.

Language first. Here's what a spokeswoman for the Health and Safety Executive had to say about these new rules. Their intention is to discourage people from using ladders from "working at height", or to quote a spokesperson:

"Schedule six of the regulations says that ladders can only be used if a risk assessment shows that the use of more suitable work equipment is not justified because of the low risk," she said.

"Risk assessment". There's a terrifyingly vague-sounding expression that connotes nothing so much as many pages of jargon and an expensive consultant or two clocking up the billable hours at your expense.

I do believe that bureaucracies everywhere would do themselves a huge favour by using plain language. In fact, they do, at the sharp end of the, er, client interface. The trouble is, it's often overly simplified, while one layer deeper into the bureaucracy, where you will inevitably find yourself going reluctantly with your application form in triplicate, there is a different breed of bureaucrat who has become familiar with the jargon and acronyms of their particular little corner of the bureaucratic universe and who will blithely pepper you with them in their impenetrable correspondence.

When someone in the organisation does actually decided to deploy that plain language, though, the sun fairly glows. Here: look what risk assessment means, according to Britain's HSE*

What is risk assessment? A risk assessment is nothing more than a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. The aim is to make sure that no one gets hurt or becomes ill. Accidents and ill health can ruin lives, and affect your business too if output is lost, machinery is damaged, insurance costs increase, or you have to go to court.

You are legally required to assess the risks in your workplace. The important things you need to decide are whether a hazard is significant, and whether you have it covered by satisfactory precautions so that the risk is small. You need to check this when you assess the risks. For instance, electricity can kill but the risk of it doing so in an office environment is remote, provided that 'live' components are insulated and metal casings properly earthed. and self-employed people to assess risks in the workplace.

Applying this now to the church in Norfolk, I'd say the risk assessment should take, oh, five minutes? Maybe fifteen if it takes a while to write it down.

What you're looking for, surely, is a simple description that says how high up the lights are, how stable you'd be at the top of the ladder as you took the old light out and put a new one in, and how severely mashed your skull might be if you took a header. That sort of thing. You might tone it down a bit for the vicar. And of course, you should describe a means of doing it where no-one is likely to get hurt: does it warrant a scaffold or a platform or not, and if so, how do you do it?

I don't see that any of that should necessarily entail any significant complication of daily life. The discouraging part is coming to realise that: the bloody lights are too high up; that someone could get hurt changing them, notwithstanding that they've been doing it for years without incident; and, of course, that it will all cost money.

Which brings me to the second aspect: 1300 quid seems a bit stiff, you have to admit. But maybe it would be a good idea to be doing something about building design. It's not just the EU that's doing this nutty stuff; most OECD countries appear to be doing much the same thing. If you adopt safety requirements for working at height, it comes at a price. If you don't want to pay for the scaffolding and the cherry pickers and the like, you might want to look at your building plans and ask what you can do to mimimise the cost of that mid-air maintenance.

You could just pray nothing bad will happen, I suppose, but back at St Benet's, Father Anthony is taking things into his own hands and looking at ways of getting bulbs and fittings that last a bit longer and dropping the light fittings down so they are a little easier to reach.

* Health and Safety Executive. Just how much do those acronyms piss you off when you're not in the loop, though, eh?

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Are you with me? | Oct 18, 2005 12:01

There's plenty in this new government for a bemused Australian to chuckle about, and look - The Australian is bemused and chuckling about it.

Assisted by our very own Fran O'Sullivan it has a story headlined "Bad joke Foreign Minister for Kiwis", the thrust of which is that Winston Peters - an outspoken, anti-immigration protectionist who promotes racial profiling of Muslims - will become the public face of New Zealand on the world stage.

Of course, Australia has heard that one before. Take a bow, Sir Les "I'm that low I could parachute out of a snake's arsehole and still have room to free-fall" Paterson, cultural attaché to London, and fine role model for the newly-elevated Minister for Courtenay Place.

Just for curiosity's sake, I photoshopped Winston's Italian locks into a Sir Les mop of grey hair.

It's pretty instructive. Even with disheveled hair, your Maori scrubs up way better than your Sydney Catholic pisshead.

So no danger there. He can look the part. And if he's prepared to read the executive summaries of the executive summaries that I'm informed they used to scribble for him last time he held a Crown Warrant, well then, he'll do what's required of him, no worries.

Of course, this position gets him way the hell away from the tent altogether, to use this week's most over-used metaphor. For those weeks when he isn't out spreading the good word about Tolerant, Inclusive, Progressive, Nuclear Free New Zealand in exotic locations, though, what's Helen Clark going to do to emulate Jim Bolger's highly effective late night coalition-management sessions with Winston over a bottle of hard liquor?

Perhaps she might be well-served by adding a useful item of equipment to the beehive gym. You know those mechanical bulls they have in Texas bars? Stay on for 10 seconds and you win a 32 ounce steak -that kind of thing? I think if you were to put one of those next to the cross-trainer, it might be a good idea for H1 to hop on to the bull each morning and see how long she can stay in the saddle.

If she can hang on to that, Winston should be a piece of cake.

Oh, but you have to laugh. Who knows? Maybe this is a perfect expression of the extremely pragmatic nature of our politics, and of that ultimate political survivor. Helen Clark.

You push to the right to get yourself a stable majority, and in the process, by cuddling up closer to a clutch of centrist policies, you also soak up some of the oxygen of the party that had given you a hell of a fright.

To the extent that National fashioned a platform out of resentment, this potentially cuts out a good bit of the supporting timber.

In rhetorical terms, it leaves them less room to move on Treaty issues, less room to move on Tax, and less room to move on Nanny State and PC criticisms.

It also resurrects an old First Past the Post favourite: the marginal electorate. Look at those resuscitated prospects of central government roading money for Tauranga and Wellington, and ask yourself how much that differs from, say, Think Big Money for the marginal seat of Whangarei in 1981.

Pragmatism through and through, then. Enough to make you, well, Green around the gills if you're of a more idealistic persuasion.

In my interview with Andrew Sharp for the Civil War book, I asked him about the large part that pragmatism plays in our politics. He said we don't like our ideas played out and exposed and shown for what they are. He also said he thought those characteristics in society have both good and bad effects. If either of those things changed a lot, he says, we'd change.

From the point of view of people like Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons, that must be starting to seem like something of a remote prospect.

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And their eyes are too close together | Oct 17, 2005 09:19

In terms of the war on terror, who do you think should be the next country to invade? Saudi Arabia? Somebody in the Middle East? Perhaps you're thinking Italy. If you are, you're not alone according to the intrepid reporters of CNNNN who took their microphones to the people of America and reported back the perturbing results.

One person nominated Korea. Why? "They're trouble." What's trouble about them? "Their attitude."

And as if a gathering threat along the Flu Danube isn't trouble enough, now the people of France can factor in the worrying news that certain Americans see their country as the next likely invasion target. Why? "Because there seems to be some friction between the United States and France." Perhaps they'll start by dropping the Statue of Liberty on them from a great height.

You can see the whole sorry spectacle by clicking here.

The clip comes from the ABC's excellent Chaser Non-Stop News Network, and I'm putting it up along with a couple of other links I'll be mentioning on this morning's Chewing the Fat spot on Nine to Noon because it's easier to direct people here than to spell out the links.

We'll also be covering the belligerent Smurfs video, which you can see here, and Kevin Roberts' personal contribution to the war on terror, which is here. The broad topic we're exploring is whether advertising can stop people killing one another. I'm something of a skeptic.

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And I get on my knees and pray | Oct 14, 2005 09:58

1 Now these are the names of the children of Decision 05, which came unto the living rooms of New Zealand; unto their televisions did they come, unto their radios, their newspapers too, and unto their blogs did they come also.

2 Winston, Helen, Rodney and Peter,

3 Donald and Tariana,

4 Rod and Jeanette, Jon and Pita.

5 And the voters were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the booths were soon to be filled with them.

6 Now there arose up a new kind of voter, which knew not registration, and Exclusive was his name.

7 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Godzone are more and mightier than we, and they fancy the woman Clark, and the woman Fitzsimons:

8 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply and it come to pass that there be engineering of a social kind, whereby verily they should make our Brethren to be less Exclusive and perhaps go even unto raves and the parties known as "dance", and even the Dawson known as "Charlotte" may yet return to our television screens.

9 Therefore they did cast amongst the voters pamphlets to set fear amongst them and they did alert the very aged Don to their game and with much notice did they alert him,

10 And yet the aged Don did lose all memory of their meeting, and it did not come back to him for a week, and neither for two weeks.

11 And fully four weeks passed before it came back to him when Noelle did place her fair Irish hand upon his memory gland and coax it yet back unto life.

12 But the more the Brethren did cast amongst the voters pamphlets, the more the questions from the reporters of the left did grow.

13 And they were grieved and did hold a conference of the press.

14 And lo the Brethren of the Exclusive were all dressed in shirts of business and the colour of those shirts was indeed white and they did all present a countenance plump and also dour and of the many thousands of viewers who did see them they could be told apart by only their mother.

15 And they did declare that it would be not for them to vote, but for God to ordain who should win the election: all their service, wherein they did make pamphlets, was in His name.

16 And the King of Radio spake to the leaders of the right, of which the name of the one was Don, and the name of the other Rodney:

17 And he said, When ye do the office of a Prime Minister and these jokers should come unto your front office; I put it to you that it will be unto their bidding that you will govern.

18 But the leaders of the right feared the voters, and said to the King of Radio: let me be perfectly clear about this Paul, we will listen to everyone, and their best did they do to assure the King of Radio that they would be not any person's bitch.

19 And the voters did gather and place their mark upon paper and spoiled were the papers of only a few and fast was the counting of the papers and verily faster yet was the placing of these numbers upon the site of the Interweb

20 And these numbers were not read by the expert from Massey who yet declared: verily the Brethren who did not make a vote shall rejoice tonight for there is coming a mighty victory for the parties led by Men, and there shall be a Prime Minister and his name shall be Don.

21 And the Brethren said unto one another: we can go to bed, for it is 8.15 and that is the hour of the Devil.

22 Yet in the morning, the Brethren did open their Sunday Star Times and did sorely choke upon the spectacle, for the wicked voters of Auckland of the South, where the Brethren did themselves dwell, had recorded their votes for the lot known as "the other."

23 And verily the Brethren did take their ration cards from their wallets and they did see that they were indeed ripped, and asunder were they torn. And they did wail and rend their garments, and the business shirts of white became strewn all about.

24 Therefore God dealt well with the Brethren, and yet they knew it not and fell to their knees crying "What in the name of You is all this carry-on? How in Your name are we supposed to work with this?"

25 And it came to pass that a working group was formed and its number was seven and this was the seven who had become comfortable with the gaze of the media, and all of them were Men, for there was work by Men to be done.

26 And the work of Men was to watch the television to see what did come to pass. And the Men were sore frustrated because the leaders of the parties did meet and go away and talk no more.

27 And the woman known as Helen, and also as caretaker was she known, did go away and even unto Invercargill did she go to watch a motion picture about an Indian who was fast.

28 And even when the motion picture had ended did she say not a word about the formation of a government. And yet the working group did dry to deduce meaning from her words and still they could find no clue, for there was little to be known from the words: "He didn't seem to be going all that fast to me"

29 And the working group did gnash and wail, and it did fidget also as it watched the television for news of negotiations. And even did it yield to temptation, for it did cast its eyes upon the high-rating and critically acclaimed Unauthorised History of New Zealand (Tuesdays at 10.00pm on 2) and often did the arms of the working group rise in indignation and yet neither could the working group bring itself to change the channel.

30 Many days passed in this fashion, and in this fashion did many more days pass, until upon the very moment at which the working group was poised to abandon its struggle, a message was passed to the group by telephone.

31 And the message was good, for it declared: 'The woman Clark has cast a dummy from her mouth, for the woman Turia has required that she arrive for discussions in a limousine and verily she must travel in this limousine lying prone in the rear set, and lying prone in this seat, she must expose herself to the full gaze of the television cameras of TV1 and TV3 and also the TV known as Maori.

32 And the message did continue: "I think you jokers are in. You'd better give Don a ring."

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Blurred vision | Oct 12, 2005 18:48

Some weeks, you just get so busy, the news simply rushes by.

From the snatches I've caught, I understand they've announced a bloody good line-up for the Big Day Out including P Diddy who's going to be covered in rock snot. Or was that something else? It's all such a blur.

Even if he's not in the schedule, that's a good looking list. I will be employing my usual Can-You-Let-Me-Through-Right-Now-I'm-Looking-For-My-Daughter line to get a parting of the crowds to get myself front and centre for the White Stripes. Russell can pull off the still-down-with-the kids thing; I see more utility in masquerading at such moments as one of Sir Humphrey's ageing misanthropes.

Meanwhile, if I have it right, our glorious leader is due to announce a new government, although Desperate Don might be making a late bid.

I just place that on record to get things rolling along swiftly towards closure because as soon as you write something like that, they go and announce something that dates it. Full credit, for keeping the game interesting, to your friend and mine, the man who got beaten by a builder with one testicle, Winston Peters.

Look, it's a thin chance, but who knows? He might yet get his tilt at the crown and deliver on the 500 to 1 shot I wrote about in the early days of the election. After that happened, the odds went out to 1000 to 1 and then they stopped taking your money on that bet altogether.

I mention this only because I'm warming up to apologise to anyone who took my investment advice seriously. I was at a function the other night when George Andrews breezed past and muttered something about me owing him 500 dollars. I take it he put a dollar on. George, sorry to have given you a bum steer, and if anyone else is out a dollar, let me know and I'll see if I can't do something to make amends.

Elsewhere in the betting world, I learned to my surprise this morning that there's been an interesting shift on the odds at optimisticpredictions.com. I know this because I was giving a talk about the book of that name, and the nice man who gave the word of thanks ran through some of the odds that were being offered on the site.

Last time I had looked, about two months ago, the odds on "Oil shortage precipitates worldwide depression" were still longer for a "Yes" bet than a "No" bet.

Not any more.

The odds for a $100 bet are now:

YES: $127.46
NO: $464.10

What can have happened?

Again, such a blur in the newspapers. And yet not such a blur that somehow I haven't been made aware of virtually every facet of the ill-fated journey of Birgit Brauer.

I add my support to the protestations of Stephen Judd:

Note to editors: if this nosey parkering is on my behalf, please stop. There's no public interest here that isn't wholly prurient.

I understand this is what sells newspapers, but I wish it didn't.

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What's on the other channel? | Oct 06, 2005 17:50

Americans are reeling this evening at the news that they have, for the last five years, been the unwitting participants in the most elaborate Reality TV show ever produced.

News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch intervened this morning to suspend the show's production, which had successfully installed a bogus President in the White House in 2001. Although the stunt had only been approved by President Gore to run for seven days, its unexpected success had emboldened the show's producers at Fox Television to extend its run fully five years longer.

"A joke's a joke, but stone the crows, the whole thing was getting bloody ridiculous," Murdoch said. "It's one thing to make a bit of money dicking people around, but there was some real suffering on the cards if we let this thing keep going much longer. We might have got offside with the Chinese, and I don't have to draw you a map to tell you what that would have done to our revenues."

The installation of "President" Bush rates as a quantum leap in the degree of malevolence employed by a reality TV show, even by the rapidly deteriorating standards of the genre.

Murdoch conceded that with the benefit of hindsight, he might have stepped in sooner to end the production as it spiralled out of control, however he vigorously defended the initial decision to stage such an elaborate deception of the American people.

"We could see that the game was on as soon as the Fox News numbers started to lift. Anyone who could swallow that stuff was clearly not the full quid. The obvious next question was: what else might they fall for?"

"The Big Brother crap was working well in the dimwit teenage demographic, but we couldn't see any reason why you couldn't get a much wider chunk of the audience sucked in with the right story. What we didn't count on was that people would stay clueless for so long."

Despite his protestations that the corporation had done little wrong, the ageing media magnate was clearly uncomfortable at the indignation that erupted almost instantaneously at the announcement, although his hastily convened press conference was punctuated with occasional hilarity as Murdoch recounted the catalogue of failures that punctuated the bogus presidency.

"The bloke was obviously miles out of his depth from the very beginning. Talk about your idiot son. He manages to tank one perfectly good business after another, he only ever gets out of trouble by getting the family to pull strings, and he somehow never manages to strike oil in Texas. There was no way he wasn't going to make a colossal balls-up of the job if you were stupid enough to put him in the White House."

Brandishing a popular item of viral internet humour, Murdoch recited from a list of major disasters of the Bush administration, noting those which had been ticked and those which were yet to come.

"I don't know how they got hold of copyright material from the Fox Studios, but as you can see, they thought the whole thing was a joke. Well it wasn't. That's the script, and as you can see, they'd worked all the way down from Abu Graib to Katrina."

"If you thought the flood was bad, you should see what was coming with the locusts. Full credit to the production people - they really pulled out all of the stops, but locusts, I mean, really. Have you seen what those things can do? Shame we won't be able to make a buck off the Osama-Jenna tape, but."

Murdoch said that the constitutional and legal ramifications were "nothing to get too excited about".

"We've got the same team that sorts out our broadcasting licences working on it. They reckon everything can be put back to where it was before the show started by the close of business on Friday, and Al Gore can start his first term on Monday."

Media commentators say they doubt that any outrage will harm the long-term prospects for News Corporation.

"What this tells you is that Murdoch has everyone's nuts in a much tighter vice than we ever thought," said Wall Street Journal commentator Hiram Firam. "Do you have any idea how many organs of government had to look the other way to let this happen? This guy has serious influence for a man who only became a US citizen in late middle age."

Firam projected a sharp upturn in business confidence. "Bush was starting to look real tricky. People are just relieved that someone else finally has the football."

In a day of remarkable revelations, however, one surprising element of the sensational disclosure caught everyone by surprise. Responding to questions about the future of "Ann Coulter", Murdoch disclosed that the "world's scariest neocon" was not in fact a fabrication of the Fox network. "Wouldn't have a clue where she came from, mate," Murdoch said. "All I can tell you is that even for Fox, making up a person like that would have been a bridge too far."

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Thinking like an ad man | Oct 06, 2005 09:40

If you were to take all the old 1-inch tape at TVNZ and spool it out, they say there'd be enough to get you to Australia and back. Maybe much further, in fact.

On that tape, you'll find images of a younger New Zealand: possibly less groovy and dangerous, but appealing nonetheless, in its own innocent way. In fashion terms, the footage will take you all the way from mullet to mutton chop, shoulder pads to walk shorts. You'll see Billy T James, probably, and perhaps Phil Warren. Yards of Muldoon and Lange, no doubt. Richard and Judy's first news broadcast, would be in there somewhere, I daresay.

If you've been enjoying The Unauthorised History of New Zealand, you'll be only too aware how much fun it can be to rummage amongst the archival footage and find everything from the Shah of Iran to Angela d'Audney's breasts.

So how much value would you put on preserving this stuff? How much would you be willing to pay to keep those golden memories in a safe place, ready for hauling out whenever you wanted to look at them?

Well, according to a slightly concerned source I spoke to last night, that is a question we might want to answer quite soon. Apparently TVNZ has miles of footage on one inch tape that is about to fall victim to technological obsolescence. The tape's in fine condition, but before long, there won't be any compatible equipment left to play it. How long is "before long"? A year or so, possibly.

It would be, to put it mildly, unfortunate to miss the chance to transfer it to a new medium. My source guesses that it might cost you a million or so to do the job, when you tot up the cost of equipment and the person hours it would be likely to require.

So: how to fund it? Well, they've just freed up 800,000.

Alternatively, though, why not pitch this as an opportunity to a savvy advertising agency? They could get one of their clients to come charging in as the cavalry and put up the money to save the archival footage. In return, they could get first dibs on the material for their ad campaigns.

This, of course, is not thinking like an ad man. If I were thinking like an ad man I'd be saying "let's offer to buy the stuff from TVNZ". But that would be wrong in so many ways, I can scarcely believe I've put the idea into circulation.

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The Long Goodbye | Oct 04, 2005 11:28

More readers' farewells today, this time to the MPs whose fate was sealed on Saturday morning.

Nandor Tanczos: if goodwill means anything, there's clearly a substantial constituency for your return at the next election.

I'm just a little puzzled that the Greens don't seem to be contemplating creating some sort of function for their almost-seventh List MP. I appreciate that this is not a movement awash in cash, and that their parliamentary funding is not nearly enough to enable them to take on the research staff they need, but it would be a terrible shame if he really did have to follow Grant Tyrell's admonition to get a haircut and a real job.

Which brings me to two more Poetry Corner contributions, this time from Alison Green - one in the approved form, and the other slightly bending it to say something nice to Nandor. Well fair enough.

So. Farewell
Then
Katrina Shanks.

We barely
knew
you.

You began by
filling in forms
and going to
caucus lunches.

But you were gone by
Saturday lunchtime.

I had to
look up your name
online.

-------------------

So. Farewell
Then
Nandor.

I'll miss your
dreadlocks
and your
hemp-green
suit.

They say you rocked
in select committees.
And that
you really
knew your stuff.

Others may
remember you
for dope and Rastafari.

But you made me proud
to be a Kiwi -
where my vote can elect
a man such as you.

And moving to a different form of verse altogether, Hilary Stace sent me this marvellous little contribution from her mother Jeanette.

Thanks to the people's party
I got my start
Now I've made my pile
Our ways must part

One of the joys of reading Annie Proulx's novel Postcards comes in the laconic little messages at the opening of the chapters scrawled on the back of a postcard from the story's tragic hero, Loyal Blood. None of his messages convey even a fraction of the anguish, ordeal and grim fatalism that attend his tale, and that's the whole point. I defy you to read it without shedding a manly tear at its poignant end.

I was reminded of this by visiting a site which Nic Wise recommended. PostSecret is "an ongoing community art project where people mail-in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard."

Typically, people print out a line or two and paste it onto the back of a suitable post card, ransom note style. They're concise, but they can pack a sizeable punch.

One has pasted onto a dollar bill:

I gave up my true love for a guy with lots of money.
It makes feel kind of dead inside.

And then at the foot of the bill in red letters:

But I would do it again.

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Scrubbing Up Well | Oct 02, 2005 17:15

Later in this post, photos of hard-drinking press gallery journalists, but first, something from the world of light entertainment. Tonight's four remaining aspirant NZ Idols will not include Teresa, to our six-year old's disappointment. Perhaps I should show her the very nice piece of verse Ms Robyn Gallagher composed in response to my suggestion last week that she might write something to mark the imminent departure of Steve.

So. Farewell
Then Teresa
from Wellington.

You sang a few songs
on the telly
and were
quite good.

I thought Steve
would go before
you.

But he had shiny,
pretty blonde hair;
and you,
a floppy fringe.

The farewell to Steve will have to wait, Robyn, writes, "but hopefully for not more than a week."

**********************

In other news, the Auckland Half Marathon is just four weeks away, and I find to my pleasant surprise that a hamstring injury is wearing off just as I need to be stretching out for the longer training distances.

This makes me a good bet for a little sponsorship money in aid of the Heart Foundation. As I write this, my current total of pledges is zero, so really, if you have some parking meter money taking up space in your pocket, do by all means feel welcome to click here and get the warm glow of selflessness that comes with noble acts of charitable giving.

I have absolutely no idea whether this is worth mentioning but you automatically get rigged up for this when you sign up for the marathon and, well, this is a cause I can identify with.

**********************

Now: pictures of pissed hacks.

We had old friends visiting yesterday, and we pulled out the photo albums to give the various assembled kids some examples of our lives Before Children. If you want, I can show you pictures of exotic and enchanted journeys, but let's be honest, they're not likely to be as interesting as a picture of Her Majesty's loyal press gallery journalists drinking in the line of duty, so a here's an example from the 1989 CHOGM in Malaysia.

Karren was there in her capacity as the Prime Minister's Press Secretary. You can read elsewhere about other entertaining aspects of that adventure, as documented by Joanne Black, but today's story concerns that debonaire eminence gris, and currently TVNZ's man-of-influence about the corridors of power, Richard Griffin.

You may have read a profile In the Herald by Michele Hewitson a few weeks ago in which she captured two essential facets of his character. One, he's a bugger for the bottle and the other is that he cares very much about the welfare of animals. I had no idea, and I'm glad that I never brought up any of my farming experiences when we were drinking.

But I would have been aware, had Karren related the story to me sooner about a crab that was saved from a cruel and untimely end at a hawker stall in a humid alleyway of Kuala Lumpur by Radio New Zealand's political editor. As we were looking through the photos yesterday, we came upon this.

What was it? We asked. And Karren told the story of how the gallery journalists were out for a night of drinking and eating, and someone had come towards the table bearing a selection of live crabs. The group was, of course, asked to choose the one they most fancied eating.

Dick would have none of it. He became animated, agitated even. Mollification ensued, and long story short, they ended up with a liberated crab back at their hotel, given refuge in a 5 star hotel hand basin.

Order restored, Dick went back to his drinking, and the picture captures the result nicely.

That's a youthful looking Barry "until then my lips are sealed" Soper to his right, of course. In drinking terms, they go together as naturally as Winston Peters and the Green Parrot. And sometimes you can collect the whole set.

There's just something about the picture that captures the essence of that particular meeting of the minds, and I thought it was too good not to share.

Lest you think I'm bagging him, I'm not. He's a splendid fellow to drink with. It's just that when you consider that this is the same man who was often mistaken for the Prime Minister of our nation when he accompanied Jim Bolger on overseas visits, it reminds you how very well he does scrub up in the morning.

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