Sunday, 20 August 2017

Not for the faint-hearted

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Last week I had a game of golf. Please note I said “had a game” I didn’t say I “played a game.” That would be elevating the experience to a level I never reached. A satirist once wrote that they called the game “golf” because all the other four letter words were used up. I can empathise with the sentiment. You are probably asking why someone, with my countless years of experience dodging fruitless exercise, would suddenly take up golf. Well the Masterton Golf Club, in an effort to boost flagging membership, decided to lower the sub for new members from around $450 a year to just $100 for the first year and I can’t resist a bargain.

But they carefully omit to tell you that to play the game you need golf clubs. The pro at Lansdowne, who goes under the unlikely name of Bob McDonald, soon sorted me out a set of second hand clubs. He assured me that they were near new, one owner, low mileage etc. but I should have suspected something when I saw that the sizes on the club heads were in Roman numerals.

Now I was all set to go except you can’t really play golf without a trundler. My wife came up with a simple solution. She would buy a new one for herself and I could have her old one. It is a peculiarity of the female species that, even though you have a joint account, they have this inflexible belief that when money comes out of it for an item for their use, it doesn’t really count. Using this logic my trundler actually cost nothing. I have friend whose wife is a part time school teacher. She takes home about $13 a week after tax. Whenever she wants expensive alterations or new furniture for the house she says she will do it out of “her money.” At the last count he told me it will take about four hundred years of “her money” to pay off this years spend alone.

But I digress.

I decided to dispense with trying to look like beau brummel on the course, my slacks, polo shirt and sneakers will suffice, until I turn professional. I checked with the bank manager to see that the loan I had taken out for the cost thus far was in place and after a lengthy and protracted confirmation I was set to burn up the course.

New Members Day (nearly two hundred aspirants were encouraged by the low first year subscription) meant fours consisting of two seasoned members teamed up with two $100 novices. My fellow novice and I drew a wisecracking lawyer and the club captain. The dedicated club captain would constantly stop mid fairway and pontificate about the million dollar views, admittedly quite excellent, but his claim that this was worth the $100 subscription alone, was a trifle exaggerated. Anyway you don’t get to enjoy the scenery when you are regularly on your hands and knees in the undergrowth looking for your ball.

And that’s another cost I hadn’t factored in; buying golf balls. The pro obliged of course, but the brand he sold me had a cunning homing device that attracted them to either trees or water. A typical hole: A couple of air shots (my partners refused to accept these were practice swings) and the ball would take off feebly towards a tree (the wood homing device) then amazingly the internal electronic radar thingy would shift to a new setting and the ball, provided a connection with the club was actually made, would hive off towards the nearest lake.

The water hazards obviously had a suction arrangement at the bottom and this was connected to pipe that snakes its way back to the pro-shop. I am sure of this because when I got back to the clubhouse my balls were being offered for sale on the shop counter. I’ll swear they were still wet!

After nine holes, breathless and exhausted, I thought I couldn’t go on. My wife’s old trundler has ABS braking which is fully applied all the time and the Lansdowne golf course must have been designed by Sir Edmund (then just Edmund) Hillary. Combine the hills with the heavy Romanesque clubs and the lack of match fitness starts to show. The lawyer chooses now to tell me how after a similar disposition a couple of years ago his doctor had rushed him into hospital for a heart bypass. To punctuate the story he unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a scar stretching from his Adam’s apple to his navel. All this just to play golf!

But beginners do get their moneys worth. You hit more shots, swing more clubs, see more corners of the course, dive into more water hazards, rake more bunkers, and walk about twice as far as the more competent. You should really be paying twice the sub, not a quarter. But like the cigarette companies, they want to get you addicted, though after last week’s tribulations, they will be battling to get me.

The lawyer had the last word. I told him I’d move heaven and earth to break a hundred. He said I’d better try heaven; I’d already shifted most of the earth.

I’m surprised they could find a heart to bypass.

(First published December 30th 1998)

“Son, when you participate in sporting events, it's not whether you win or lose, it's how drunk you get.” – Homer Simpson


Sunday, 13 August 2017

On tattoos, taxes and teachers

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My geography teacher at school told us that New Zealand was a blessed place because of its equi-distance between the equator and the Antarctic. This meant a temperate climate that was the envy of the world because we could grow lush pastures to feed our livestock, but our temperatures didn’t get too cold for them to need housing in the winter.

As a result we managed to produce cheap meat and even though our markets were at the uttermost ends of the Earth we could still land our product in these distant lands at a competitive price.

Competitive perhaps, until loony Labour gets its grubby hands on our free-flowing water and taxes it to death.

The politics of envy are at play here. Socialists couldn’t stand the sight of someone bottling our water and sending it off-shore. The water had fallen out of the sky, but how dare these entrepreneurs get their hands on it for nothing before it flowed on out to sea. No one had noticed that for years we have been exporting wine, beer and even soft drinks (the hugely successful Karma Kola being a classic example) all chock full of New Zealand water, but out of sight and therefore out of mind.

And so Labour wants to tax our water and give much of the proceeds to Iwi. So basically they are saying New Zealanders will have to pay Iwi for products that use water. This is a major policy shift and even worse, Labour won’t say how much the tax will be. The tax will also be discriminatory. Commercial water used in the city will not have to pay, but those in the rural areas will be charged. Most major breweries will end up not having to pay the tax, while most craft breweries will. It will put up food prices for many items as well as making our exporters less competitive.

Labour are playing to the latte-sipping liberals in Ponsonby and Wellington; they simply don’t care about rural New Zealand. Ms Ardern proposes to tax farmers who have made huge financial investments in water availability to insure production against drought or to increase production or establish a new use for water.

Any water that is not treated and supplied by a local council or a government body through a public reticulation system and is used by its citizens should be free as its use benefits everyone in the country.

Ms Arden’s only real claim to fame before coming to parliament on Labour's list was to be elected President on The International Union of Socialist Youth in Britain. She has never had to face the rigours of commerce, or needed to find enough money each week to pay staff or GST or ACC levies or be mired under the overwhelming scrutiny of the new health and safety regulations.

In the cocooned environs of her charmed life she has had little experience of the everyday economic maelstroms facing most hard-working businessmen and farmers. In fact in the last news item I read regarding the new labour leader is that she is entertaining the idea of getting a tattoo. Not a white dove of peace or the white camellia of women’s suffrage, but an image of explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Just what you need to run the country.

I wish my late great geography teacher could have lived to see that in the grand scheme of things we’re not really blessed at all.

“Read my lips: no new taxes.” - George H. W. Bush


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Ageing maleness is not a pretty sight

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It was a revelation to recently discover what a disgraceful employer I must have been. At one stage, at the height of my business venturing, I owned a bacon factory, three butcher’s shops and a smallgoods factory. Later on I managed real estate company and concluded my career as the half-owner of a sign factory.

Over that period, spanning some fifty odd years, I employed a large number of members of the ‘fairer sex’ (hang on, am I even allowed to say that now) and if they were of the child bearing age I invariably asked them at the employment interview what their intentions were regarding motherhood.

I was blissfully unaware at the apparent sensitivity of this line of inquiry, but last week a number of males, some with high profiles and impeccable credentials were severely castigated for asking Ms Ardern the very same question.

No matter that the new Labour leader had broached the subject herself in a recent Next magazine article that featured her airbrushed picture on the front cover.

In that homily she claimed to have no ambitions regarding the leadership of the party as she wanted have a family first.

Bob Dylan sang “the times they are a‘changing” and my generation obviously weren’t listening. In our day the potential for pregnancy question garnered important information. No sense in training applicants as meat packers, checkout operators, office staff, real estate salespersons or graphic designers if they were going to hive off and have a family.

And remember these were those halcyon days before paid parental leave.

And our misogynistic mistakes keep mounting up. Not long ago rugby league great Graham Lowe was asked what he thought of Ms Ardern and walked into a minefield when he said: “She’s a pretty little thing, isn’t she?”

I thought it was reasonable response; after all she has pretty big teeth and a pretty big mouth and the overall picture is pretty attractive and anyway in ‘my day’ to describe a lady as pretty was deemed a compliment and a much sought-after description of themselves by young women at the time.

For Lowe it was like Chicken Little’s sky had fallen. The news media and social media came down on him like a ton of bricks and he was sent to Coventry. Well actually that’s not true. In fact he went to Bradford on his own accord and bought a British rugby league team, the Bradford Bulls, presumably keen to get as far away from this country as he could.

That’s why you’ve never heard of him since.

Jacinda’s pathway to potential premiership came pretty quickly. The ageing Annette King was encouraged to step aside; I’ll bet she was a pretty little thing in her day too.

Oops, I’d better go and pack my bags; I’m off to Coventry.

“To judge from the covers of countless women’s magazines, the two topics most interesting to women are 1) why men are all disgusting pigs and 2) how to attract men.” - Dave Barry


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Paying back the piper

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My first thought when I heard Metiria Turei’s bold confession about her transgressions as a solo mum was Jesus’ exhortation to the mob surrounding the woman caught in the act of adultery: ‘let anyone who is without sin among you cast the first stone.’

For instance didn’t Bill English once have to pay back a $32,000 housing allowance he had wrongly claimed on his million-dollar-plus Karori home?

Regrettably, for most people cheating on the government is a national pastime. Who hasn’t paid cash for a job knowing full well the recipient has no intention of declaring it? Or conversely how often have we received cash for a product or service that should be declared, but have remained shtum?

Admittedly in a cashless society with eftpos machines consuming the commercial world these opportunities have all but disappeared, nevertheless there is a general feeling abound that the governments money is there for the taking and no one really sees it as theft off fellow taxpayers.

However Ms Turei’s revelations deepened as the week wore on. It seemed the father of her child was well-known to the family, but not disclosed on the birth certificate and was therefore not made liable for deductions to be paid to the Internal Revenue Department. It was also thought that one of her flatmates was in fact her live-in partner. And amazingly during this time of ‘economic stress’ she stood for two political parties; first the McGillicuddy Serious Party and then the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis party.

When challenged about this by Guyon Espiner on National Radio she said beneficiaries are entitled to have fun.

She’s right of course, but if having fun includes smoking marijuana then it’s probably an expensive form of entertainment.

Anyway the Green Party is an ideal resting place for Ms Turei; they have a policy, not widely promulgated, to decriminalise marijuana.

At a ‘Meet the Candidates’ meeting a few years ago I asked the Wairarapa Green Party candidate at the time, Ms Sea Rotmann, about their near-secret policy of legalising cannabis. She said they weren’t going to legalise it, merely decriminalise it. (I was reminded of the American comedian who asked his audience what the difference was between unlawful and illegal? His punchline was that unlawful is against the law whereas illegal is a sick bird. - No, I didn’t laugh much either.)

But like it or not, the eventual decriminalisation of cannabis in New Zealand is a give-in with medical marijuana undoubtedly being used as a back door entry for recreational use.

The government, particularly via its District Health Boards, is making strenuous efforts to discourage and eventually eliminate tobacco smoking altogether and yet here is a product that is more carcinogenic and is now likely to come on stream with all of its potential medical and mental health outcomes.

This incredible step into iniquity has already happened in five U.S. states which is hardly likely to make America great again. The dimly lit neon caverns selling this ghastly product have rows of jars displaying a vast variety of cannabis heads that resemble brains in formalin.

These shops look like highways to hell.

Meanwhile Ms Turei has promised to pay back what she owes us all, presumably she will also pay the interest and the penalty interest which will be substantial.

She won’t be able to afford recreational cannabis for a while.

“Kids today are no sooner off the pot than they are back on it again.” - Stuart Francis


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The hair of the dog

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There was a time when I was regular attender at Meat Retailers Federation conferences. These were held annually in various parts of the country; usually wherever the local association was motivated enough to do the organising. Wairarapa was always well represented and we didn’t attend under duress. In fact they were great fun. Starting on a Saturday night, they usually finished on Wednesday so we could all get back to our shops and prepare for the busy Friday trade. The Wairarapa contingent were always prominent participators. I recall Max Stevenson, who owned a rival butcher down the road from us, and I getting a standing ovation as “extras” in a variety show staged for a conference at New Plymouth with our rendition of “Mull of Kintyre.” Max played the bagpipes and yours truly played guitar and did the vocal. Paul McCartney would have turned over in his grave; and he’s not even dead!

The concert was attended by New Plymouth locals as well as conference delegates and at a cocktail hour before leaving for the theatre I had chastised some of my fellow butchers for not wearing ties. Instead, as was the fashion at the time, most had open shirts, with their necks adorned with gold chains. Napier butcher Dave Nilsson’s wife, a tall attractive blonde hairdresser named Rhonda, suggested the reason I wore a tie was because I had no hair on my chest. This was a hurtful remark, made without intimate knowledge, but in fact she was quite right. I have about as many hairs on my chest as David Shearer has appointments in his current diary, but she added insult to injury by suggesting that she would have more hair on her chest, than I had on mine. Stung by this callous claim I immediately bet her ten dollars that she didn’t.

There was method in madness of course, and you can see it straight away. Comparing our chests was going to be more fun for me than it would be for her.

No time was set aside for the judgment day, but unbeknown to me, before we all went to the concert, she clipped some hair from the back of Max Stevenson’s head - she would have had to get from the back; there was little on top - and then glued it to her chest; I suspect with nail varnish.

At half time Max mounted the stage and told the assembled crowd about the wager. The meat retailing fraternity, knowing our curious senses of humour, would have taken this in their stride, but the local section of the audience must have wondered what they’d stumbled into.

Anyway, Max invited Rhonda and me on to the stage, and Rhonda, with her back to the audience, but facing me, tantalisingly undid her blouse to reveal a cleavage covered in hair. It was grotesque.

I must hastily add here that her undergarments were firmly in place and only the cleavage was exposed. I feigned shock to an audience wondering what an earth I was experiencing pulled my wallet out of my back pocket and with an exaggerated flourish, thrust a ten dollar note into her hand, declaring her to be the undisputed winner. I then fled the stage, gratified that my own lack of hirsuteness remained undisclosed.

There were serious times at our conferences of course. We did have a thoughtful agenda and we discussed mutual items that affected our trade. But the main attraction was the social programme which included entertaining trips for the spouses while we conferred. I don’t want to downplay these events; you did glean worthwhile information from fellow traders during informal talks, usually in a bar setting. But what we did learn, and all knew from the outset, was that the greatest advantages of conferences were that they allowed us to have a tax free holiday, legitimately charging all costs to our businesses.

Few will want to admit this, but conferences tend to be junkets. I have no problem with this when it involves the private sector. What privately owned business’s do with their profits is their concern, but soon the public sector, envious at what fun their private sector counterparts were having, decided to join the gravy train. Conferences have now become big business and I would need a lot more evidence to convince me that taxpayers and ratepayers are getting value for money.

In July 500 people attended the local government conference in Hamilton. It would be uncharitable to infer that this was a waste of time for those attending. Most councillor’s are sincere about what they do, but in today’s high tech climate it would not be unreasonable to suggest that much of what was imparted could have been dispersed electronically. The costs of the conference, spread over all the ratepayers in the country may not have been that great either, but I have this nagging feeling that these get-togethers have more to do with enjoying a perquisite, than providing real value to the general populace.

The best place to learn your craft is at the coalface. We all know this, but it is tempting to accept luxury hotel accommodation at someone else’s expense. Modern communication systems, like video conferencing, should have meant a lessening of the need to physically bond. Knowledge available on the internet is boundless and mostly free. Indications are that the private sector have recognised this, and have cut back on the size and frequency of their conferences. The slack however it seems has been taken up by the free spending public service.

Meanwhile the virtual disappearance of butcher’s shops has meant that meat retailer’s conventions are a thing of the past.

Pity, I bet we had more fun than those public servants; and I do miss my bosom friends.

(First published 18th August 1999)

“When a creativity becomes useful, it is sucked into the vortex of commercialism, and when it becomes commercial, it becomes the enemy of man.” - Arthur Miller


Sunday, 16 July 2017

When fashion turns old

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Some time ago I watched a movie called Trainwreck featuring American comedienne Amy Schumer. Ms Schumer not only starred in the film, but also wrote the script. I was most impressed with this multi-talented young lady.

The movie also featured LeBron James playing himself. Mr James showed he could act as well as play basketball.

And so when Netflix announced they were producing a ‘one-off’ featuring Amy Schumer in a stand-up comedy routine I couldn’t wait to access it on my screen. In the event I couldn’t believe my eyes at the crudity. Schumer used the ‘F’ and ‘C’ words frequently, talked unabashedly about her sexual proclivities and ended the show with some toilet humour that included graphic descriptions of her bowel movements. I know I could have at any time pushed the exit button and I should have because I felt decidedly grubby after having watched the whole performance.

Why do comedians today think it is funny to act out such smuttiness?

In the 1960s I was one half of a comedy duo that performed at cabarets and other social functions around the Wairarapa, occasionally in Wellington and on one occasion to a packed stadium in Rotorua. We sang parodies we had written ourselves, mimed some of Stan Freberg’s songs and I held this all together with a series of short monologues, some of which I had plagiarised from the great comedians of the day. I had long playing records of American comedians Dave Barry, Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart and classic British humourist at the time, Peter Sellers. I would usually take some of their jokes and adapt them to a more local setting.

Foul language was conspicuous by its absence.

I recently downloaded on to my IPad an LP titled The very best of Bob Newhart just to make sure I haven’t imagined the purity of the dialogue and was reassured when I found his patter excruciatingly funny and not a swear word in sight.

I attended the New Zealand Licensing Trusts Association annual conference at the weekend and keynote speaker was celebrated economist Shamubeel Eaqub. He told the attendees that he was a tad pessimistic about this country’s economic future and one phrase that resonated with me was that New Zealand has a growing divide between the rich the poor and a growing divide between the young and the old.

I suspect I’m at the wrong end of that latter group; I may well have reached my use-by date.

I started writing my weekly columns back in January 1998. They were originally called Signs of the Times then in 2009 changed to The Long View.

The critics loved Amy Schumer’s Netflix special so it is no surprise that Fairfax executive management reviewed my last few columns and concluded there was a growing divide between me and their readers. They have therefore asked me to desist from making any more weekly contributions.

Subsequently this will be my last column. Thanks to my readers (both of you) who have persevered for nearly twenty years, but I now need to retire my pen.

I guess it’s a sign of the times.

“Mick Jagger told me the wrinkles on his face were laughter lines, but nothing is that funny.” - George Melly


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Not all arms are embracing

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Celebrated inventors have had a major influence on our lives. Names that spring to mind are Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford. In more modern time times we can add Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

A new name we might like to consider as being on a par with the aforementioned is Elon Musk. I know this because I am currently reading his biography written by Ashlee Vance.

Musk is best known as the CEO and owner of the Tesla car company that delivered the Model S, a beautiful all-electric sedan that can go more than 300 miles on a single charge. The vehicle took the automotive industries breath away and slapped Detroit sober.

What’s not widely known is that he also owns a company called SpaceX that build rockets at a fraction of the cost of its rivals and sends satellites into orbit on a regular basis. SpaceX recently flew a supply capsule to the International Space Station and brought it safely back to earth. Musk’s ambition for the company is to set up a human colony on Mars as he is certain there will come a time when Earth will be over-populated and we will need to find new living environments.

He is also the chairman and largest shareholder of SolarCity. The company manufactures photovoltaic panels to generate electricity from the sun’s rays and lithium-ion battery packs. Musk is setting up solar-powered charging stations all over America for Model S owners to top up their batteries at no cost. Just imagine the future implications for Mobil, Caltex and Z.

Musk is described as a visionary genius: the man most likely to solve our addiction to carbon, save the planet from global warming, and set us on a course for our interplanetary destiny.

Born in South Africa, Elon and his brother Kimbal came to America via Canada in their early twenties and founded a web software company called Zip2 which they on-sold giving Elon $10 million with which he founded X.Com, an online financial services and email payment company. He merged this company with PayPal which was purchased by eBay for $1.5 billion.

Musk netted $250 million from the sale.

The other major shareholder in Pay-Pal and its original founder was Peter Thiel whose wealth is estimated at $US2.7 billion. Musk’s biographer describes Thiel as a “heroic genius.”

The name Peter Thiel will be familiar. He caused a stir recently by being given New Zealand citizenship under an ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause. He gave a million dollars to the Christchurch earthquake fund and has invested in a number of NZ start-up companies.

Of course the usual suspects were outraged. How dare the government give this interloper citizenship? The same suspects are also demanding that we increase the number of refugees we allow into the country. I have no problem with increasing our refugee quota, but many of these people will end up on welfare and some of the professionals among them will have little option but to drive taxis in Auckland.

Work it out for yourself.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” - George Bernard Shaw