Friday, November 27, 2015

Crime wave in Cambridge #5

As mentioned here previously, people often ask me, “How do you find living in Cambridge, population 18,400, after living for so long in Auckland, population 1.5 million?”

Here is the full police report from this week’s issue of the Cambridge Edition:
Wednesday November 18
There was a car vs power pole on Kaipaki Rd, there were no injuries but the driver will go to court for careless driving.
A Cambridge man has admitted to tagging places in Cambridge with the word “gherk”. Investigations are continuing.
A man from Tokoroa was caught shoplifting at The Warehouse.
A large B-train (truck and trailer unit) drove over the Hydro Rd Karapiro bridge, damaging the barrier and two wheels on the vehicle. The driver will receive a number of offence notices.
There was unlawful interference of a boat on Keats Tce.
Overnight there was a burglary at a farm workshop, police are waiting for a list of items.
Friday November 20
A Cambridge woman was arrested for shoplifting.
Two 17-year-old boys from Te Awamutu advised police that they were involved in a fraud. They will be interviewed this week.
Overnight there was a burglary on Shaw St. Police are awaiting a list of missing items.
Saturday November 21
There was a family violence incident on Vogel St.
There was a burglary on Bruntwood Rd. Crates were stolen from an asparagus farm.
Someone drove into a wrought iron fence on Taylor St, damaging the brick work.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Metro and murder

I bought a copy of the November issue of Metro, out of kindness I suppose. Also to see what Anthony Byrt had to say about art, and what Courtney Sina Meredith had to say about “Urbanesia”.

As a former magazine person, I looked at the masthead, which only magazine persons do, and discovered that Metro has a new editor, Susannah Walker. Nobody told me. She must have answered this ad seeking a “creative, solution orientated brand champion” and fitted the bill. Good for her.

Her bio says:
Walker survived a childhood in Inglewood, the Taranaki town once known as NZ’s Murder Capital
Ahem. Credit where it’s due: Inglewood was dubbed New Zealand’s murder capital by me, when I wrote the intro to Graeme Lay’s article “Murder in Moaville” in Quote Unquote the magazine in May 1995. In that article he referred to Inglewood as “the psychopath centre of New Zealand”, but I suppose Ms Walker preferred the soft option of “murder capital”.

So here is Emmylou Harris with her Hot Band singing Townes van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty”:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #59

From the edition of Monday 16 November. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly (you have no idea how carefully, how many times, I check this) as printed in the Waikato Times.
These strange times
It seem that everything is in a state of flux and change. In the home and in the world from politics, local institutions to the oceans of the world and outer space. Surely there must be somewhere in this world that is not in conflict. So everywhere we have some disagreements.
History doesn’t look as violent now when you look and compare today’s problems. The ocean disputes in Asia, e.g. South China Sea, Russia and China, Russia - border disputes.
I’m beginning to think that humans are not such a peaceful race but find so many ways and means of creating struggle and skirmishes. Then you have the family partnerships and politics that keeps the world spinning.
Ken Weldon
So here are the Simple Image with their July 1968 #1 hit (in New Zealand) “Spinning, Spinning, Spinning”. They were our Tremeloes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

My night with Rob Muldoon

My night as Rob Muldoon, I mean. Tomorrow night is a family 50th birthday party. It is a fancy-dress party. I hate fancy-dress. We have all been assigned characters: Hamish, an athletic type, is to come as Bart Simpson; Jane, who is very attractive, is to come as Hilda Ogden from Coronation Street; Kate, who is slender, is to come as Dolly Parton (or as she puts it, “Dolly fucking Parton!”).

My wife is to come as Helen Clark, which is OK as Helen is an old friend of mine so I have been able to offer costume tips. However, I have to come as former prime minister Rob Muldoon. Which is a problem.

How does one signify Muldoon? I could get drunk, I suppose: 

But somehow I feel that more of an effort is called for. I could go around chatting up all the women, which would be in character but perhaps get me into trouble – Cambridge husbands tend to be large. I could say over and over, “I love you, Mr Lange,” but this might be misconstrued as well. It is a problem.

On the bright side, at the end of the evening I get to go home with Helen Clark.

(Photo credit: The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library. Also see Mary McIntyre’s painting Mickey Mouse and Robert Muldoon, based on this photo, here.) 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Wintec Press Club: Heather du Plessis-Allan edition

The Wintec Press Club lunch is held three times a year by the Wintec School of Media Arts and is hosted by Steve Braunias. The star-studded guest list always features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. This time they included Sasha McNeil, Matt Nippert, Hugh Sundae, David Farrier, veterans of the Waikato Times and what seemed like the entire staff of the Spin-Off website (where Braunias runs the books pages), former Speakers of the House Sir Kerry Burke and Dame Margaret Wilson, current MPs David Bennett and Tim McIndoe and the odd novelist, alongside past and present students of the Wintec media course.

The speaker is always a person of interest: this time it was Heather du Plessis-Allan, co-host of TV3’s current-affairs show Story. (Her co-host is Duncan Garner who spoke at the Wintec Press Club in May last year.)

Steve Braunias spoke at some length about the “crisis in news”, here and overseas, with reference to newsroom staff cuts and the desperation of news websites for stories that exhibit clickability. He talked about the previous speakers at these lunches, singling out November 2014’s speaker Pam Corkery as “a generally unconvincing argument for sobriety”. He handed out the 2015 Wintec Press Club awards.

There were some minor awards for Writer of the Year, Sentence of the Year and other trivia, but what everyone in the room really wanted to know was: who would win the coveted Best Friend of the Year award for “the person outside of Wintec who has provided the most outstanding support for journalism students”?

Reader, it was me. For, the citation said, my “entertaining and almost certainly libellous chronicles” of these lunches right here on this blog.

Braunias began his introduction of du Plessis-Allan by explaining, “We’re in a hurry today because as you all know Heather has a jail sentence to catch.” He insisted that the Chatham House rule applied to her talk: if she happened to call TVNZ a bunch of c***s, no one was to mention it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or a blog. So if she did, I’m not saying. (She didn’t.)

He extolled her track record and reporting skills along the lines of the advance publicity where he wrote: “Heather’s work on the Saudi sheep scandal this year was one of the best scoops of 2015. Heather is a dogged and determined reporter – and her decision to leave TVNZ for TV3’s news roster has restored some credibility to the network after its idiotic decision to lose John Campbell.”

She began by saying, “That was really generous of you, because I know how mean you can be,” which got a laugh. But as Wittgenstein would of said, of the rest I cannot speak so thereof I must remain silent.

One thing, though: she advised the students and by implication other journalists to set up Facebook pages. She said she got “so many stories that way. People don’t email any more, just find you on Facebook.” Pro tip.

'Three more things: she was briefly rude about the Wellington thinker and Twitter disputant Giovanni Tiso, which amused the three of us in the room who had heard of him. In response to a Braunias witticism, she said, “Ha ha. Fuck you, Steve.” And later to Barry Soper, her husband, after an amusing exchange, “I’ll make it up to you later. I’ll buy you something.”

She was great: funny, full of good stories and, more important, good advice. What was really striking about her talk, and her replies to the questions afterwards, was the passion for serious journalism that came through. It must have been inspiring for the students and recent graduates present. It’s pretty dismal out there, what with all the job cuts at the big media organisations, stories from Fairfax’s print editions appearing (and staying) on the Stuff website only if they have a high click-through rating, and other depressing industry developments. It must be hard for keen young journalists to stay motivated.

On the other hand, nobody looks at Rachel Glucina’s ridiculous clickability-driven “entertainment + celebrity news” website Scout, so there is hope. Faint hope, but these days we’ll take what we can get.

So, in light of HDP-A’s possibly precarious position legally gun-wise, here is Warren Zevon live in Boston in 2000 with “Lawyers, Guns and Money”:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In praise of: Roger Hall

Last Thursday night, 22 October, I was in the Grand Hall at Parliament for the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement 2015 to see Roger Hall (photo above is by Ross Giblin/Fairfax) receive the award for fiction. It was a very convivial night: I managed to talk to Dame Fiona Kidman; Owen Marshall; Chris and Barbara Else; Elizabeth Knox and Fergus Barrowman; my co-novelist Linda Burgess (Safe Sex, 1997); my favourite CNZ operatives, who must remain nameless; Jane Parkin, the editor’s editor (she has edited two of my books and as Wordsworth would say, “Oh, the difference to me!”); award selectors Paul Diamond and Morrin Rout; NZSA president Kyle Mewburn — and Ashleigh Young. Ashleigh Young! If you have you not read her debut poetry collection Magnificent Moon, do so immediately.

Before the speeches I sat down beside a kindly looking old gent. He said he thought he had been invited because he had written in support of Roger’s nomination. I said, “Me too.” We got chatting. He had no idea who I was – why would he? – but I certainly knew who he was: Bill Sheat. What a cultural hero that man is. He didn’t invent theatre and film in New Zealand, but we wouldn’t have what we do without him. He said he knew Roger from directing student skits at Victoria University written by Roger and Steve Whitehouse. I said, “I know Steve, he’s a friend.” So we got talking about what these two were like when young. The things one learns! Talking with Bill Sheat alone made the trip worthwhile.

But the main event for me was Roger getting the fiction award. It was a great result all round – the other winners were Bernadette Hall (no relation) for poetry and Dame Joan Metge for non-fiction; spookily, all three are published by Victoria University Press – but Roger’s award was special because it was the first time a playwright has won. They have always been eligible, but until now it has always been novelists and short-story writers. Roger winning opens the door to Renee, Greg McGee, a bunch of others.

What follows is an edited version of Roger’s acceptance speech.
These days I sum up my career as follows: 70 years a theatregoer; 50 years a writer; 40 years a playwright.
I’m honoured to be the first playwright to receive this award, and while it feels slightly strange getting it for Fiction I’m certainly not complaining. Someone said in fact I should have got it for non-fiction, as Glide Time was a documentary.
To all of you here, you have no idea how much this award means to me.
I’d like to thank Dianne and my wonderful family (many of whom are here tonight), but if I were to thank everyone in theatre whom I should, then we’d be here all night. So let me instead pay a tribute to New Zealand theatre as a whole.
In the late 1970s and 1980s there was a huge excitement about new New Zealand plays that were popping up all the time. Bruce Mason helped pave the way; Mervyn Thompson with O! Temperance and Songs to Uncle Scrim; Joe Musaphia’s smash hit Mothers and Fathers, which transferred from Downstage to the Opera House; Robert Lord’s Heroes and Butterflies and Well Hung; Glide Time and Middle Age Spread helped pushed things along. Renee’s wonderful Wednesday to Come and Pass it On. Greg McGee’s Foreskin’s Lament took the country by storm (occasionally I still get congratulated for writing it); and the box-office daddy of them all Ladies’ Night. And there were many more.
We have a wonderful theatre history dating way before the 1970s and 80s, back in fact to Victorian times, but as far as I know not one museum in the country gives any display place to theatre at all.
If it seemed active then, that’s as nothing compared to now. There are now on average one and half new productions every day. Last year Playmarket alone issued more than 360 licences for New Zealand plays.
A check on the website Theatreview, which reviews all professional theatre productions, reveals that on a few days of this week (17-20 October) there were 10 productions. (An astonishing number of people still don’t know about Theatreview.)
And I’m not going to miss the chance to point out that in a few days there should be reviews for daughter Pip’s play Ache which opens at Circa on Saturday night.
Despite the fact that our theatre scene is so lively, prolific, varied and vigorous, I see little national pride in what our theatre is achieving.

I can almost certainly tell you what I was doing right this minute 40 years ago: sitting in my study in Karori typing on my Olivetti working on what was probably the third draft of my first play, which would eventually be called Glide Time.
How come I was writing a play? Because I had been at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre’s playwrights’ conference in Connecticut at the insistence of and with help from Robert Lord.
That workshop was a big deal. Top US theatre people were involved each year (that year, Meryl Streep and Christopher Lloyd) and it usually produced a couple of plays that went on to Broadway.
I hadn’t intended to write a play for the stage — TV was still my ambition — but seeing what was on display, what received lavish praise there, I had that light-bulb moment: “I could do that. I will write a play.”
But — and this is the point where I have come full circle. The reason I was in New York, and had been in London the previous three months, was entirely due to a grant from the then QEII Arts Council to travel to England and the US to further my experience in writing.
So I thank Creative NZ for tonight’s award, and the QEII Arts Council for the one all those years ago. It led to Glide Time and changed my life.
Bernadette Hall’s acceptance speech is online here. With all due respect to Roger, she had perhaps the best line of the night, presumably improvised as it is not in the official version. When thanking her husband, she said, “There is nothing worse than someone becoming a writer.”  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #58

This is from the edition of Tuesday 27 October, and appears to be in response to this story from the 16 October edition. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Sad event
Sculpture commemorating war horses killed during World War I, what a disgrace this sculpture will be to commemorate such a sad happening. No one in their right mind who respects horses would think of something so stupid.
It didn’t happen in modern times so why does Caiger believes something modern should be the subject.
Melba Morrow

Friday, October 16, 2015

On literary festivals

The always excellent Tauranga Arts Festival runs from Thursday 22 October to Sunday 1 November. The full programme is here. There is music (Julia Deans sings Joni Mitchell, Annie Crummer sings soul), theatre (Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen’s The Mooncake and the Kumara, the Welsh Hireath) and a bunch of other stuff  I would really like to see.

There will also be some writers.

Siblings Mandy and Nicky Hager will talk about family ties, Harry Ricketts will talk about how to read a poem, Debra Daley will talk about her two recent historical novels, Christina Lamb – the biggest star of the festival – will talk about reporting from the war in Afghanistan (I gather this is nearly sold out so if you are interested, book tonight), Phil Jarratt, probably the second-biggest star, will talk about surfing, and then there is me.

Specifically, there is me talking about writers’ festivals with Stephanie Johnson and Claire Mabey, both of whom have run them. The blurb for the event – Sunday 25 October, 1pm, $15 don’t miss out! – says:

Being at a writers’ festival sounds a great deal for an author ... or does it?
In her latest novel, The Writers’ Festival, Stephanie Johnson possibly uses her own experiences, including as a founding board member of the Auckland Writers Festival, and at last year’s inaugural Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts in London. Claire Mabey, associate director of the Tauranga Arts Festival, was also at the London festival last year, as well as the renowned Hay-on-Wye and Edinburgh events.
What makes for a good festival and why are some festivals thought to treat their writers shabbily? Johnson and Mabey talk to Stephen Stratford.

Two good questions right there. Like Stephanie I was a founding board member of the Auckland Writers’ Festival (I served seven years, for what crime I do not know), and I have performed at one of Claire’s festivals (last year in Hamilton) as well as at others in Dunedin and Christchurch. So I know the territory and assume these events must be a good thing.

Possibly I am prejudiced from knowing too many authors, but I sometimes wonder why any reader would wish to meet a writer or listen to them bang on about themselves. Because that, frankly, is what writers do. Even the shy ones. So at some point in the proceedings I will ask the audience, “Why are you here?”

If any reader of QUQ can offer any suggestions for a more polite question I can ask of the panel or audience, I would be very grateful.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #57

This is from the edition of Monday 12 October. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Single letter
Two of the most powerful words in the modern day English language are three letter words.
Fit & Fat. Fit – meaning healthy – correct size (clothing) – bout of illness coughing etc.
Fat – meaning plump, thick, oily, greasy substance etc.
It seems strange that these two words, of three English letters only, are different by three letters, i and a.
No other words are so closely the same yet directly opposite in the English language. Similar, yet different.
Ken Weldon

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Stephen Stratford: the website

I have a new website,, where I set out my stall and tout my wares: book editing, manuscript assessment, turning corporate-speak into readable English, that sort of thing. 

The more people link to it, the higher I go up the rankings on Google. 

You know what to do.