Hard News by Russell Brown


I've never quite mastered 7am flights. This isn't to say that I actually miss them, or even that I'm not an early riser anyway, just that by the time I'm seated on the plane, I'm usually feeling hungry and stressed and have a thumping headache. Friday morning's ordeal was not helped by having been out on various jobs since 3pm Thursday, the last of which was an evening business meeting that took a decided turn for the convivial.

I was feeling better by the time I disembarked, got my bag and had my usual Friday morning chat with Wallace on 95bFM, sitting in what passed for a quiet corner of Wellington airport. Why do they have a sniffer dog every time I'm there? It unnerves me for no particular reason.

From there it was onto Astoria in the hope that either Sue or Janis might be on deck. Turned out they both were, and Sue summoned a bacon sandwich with a long black, which I ate while I chatted to Janis.

I was down for my first meeting of the board of the Humanities Research Network, which manages the communication assets of the Council for the Humanities, which presently means their website. But I had hours to fill, so I left my bag at Astoria and wandered over (with my too-heavy satchel) to Nikau, where my Wellington recognition factor kicked into. In the course of two coffees, three people came up to say they liked the blog. How nice. Never happens in the Auckland CBD.

By then, the City Gallery was open, and I went in and was standing there trying to process the mind-blowing Patricia Piccinini exhibition (you can hear the onsite podcast for it here), when Alex from Lumiere appeared to say hello (he's just started work as the gallery comms person). He advised that Charles Mabbett was putting on one of his Asia New Zealand Foundation media-networking lunches at the Grand Century in Tory Street. Charles' lunches in Auckland have been a feature of the year so far, so I figured I'd gatecrash that.

I went upstairs and took in the Michael Smither retrospective, which was both enjoyable and moving, and headed over towards Tory Street, stopping in at L'affare for a Phoenix Cola while I did some swot for my meeting.

Lunch was attended by an interesting crew: Winnie from Bananaworks, a cross-cultural communications firm that does a lot of work for local companies looking to reach into ethnic communities, and, in theory, work for communities looking to reach back the other way (demand is a little light there). Also, designer/video director Sally Tran and actress Sonia Yee, and Ron and Mark Hanson from White Fungus, who are quite excited that their alternative arts mag is now being stocked by the legendary City Lights bookshop in San Francisco. It's a quarterly mag that comes out three times a year. I hear you, guys: I used to edit one of those.

I am the only one who struggles with boundaries at yum cha? At standard restaurants, you know you're done when your plate is empty. At yum cha, I just never know. But the time came to head for Molesworth St, with just time for a quick browse at Quilters bookshop. I struggle with boundaries at Quilters too. John didn't exactly have to force my arm up my back to sell me Vol 1 of Jamie Belich's Making Peoples for $50.

The board meeting produced plenty to be going on with. I'm a non-academic drafted onto an academic board for my perceived communications skills, so it's quite an interesting gig. The website, developed by CWA, is intended as both a hub for people working in the humanities in New Zealand, and as a window for the public. We'd like to get regular traffic through it. Feel free to have a look and share any thoughts you might have about it.

From there, it was back to Astoria, where one of the staff kindly intercepted me at the door and pointed me to a table with a "reserved" sign on it. Kerry and Simon and Jessie arrived and we had a drink then headed for Melrose via, as ever, Moore Wilson.

Two hours later, we were back in town, disembarking in Courtenay Place to see a pair of girls in matching fancy dress. And then another one. And then lots, all of them running backwards and forwards - hippie chicks, disco babes, lady soldiers, Wonder Women, all sorts. It was quite mad. We stopped one pair to ask what the hell was going on. Turned out ZM was staging a scavenger hunt with a $4000 prize.

"Do you have a Qantas boarding pass?" said one. "We need one of those."

Well, ladies, yes I do. And after an intensive search of every pocket, I produced it. There was much rejoicing in Cuba St. One of them took my mobile number so she could report back on their fortunes. Which she did, 24 hours later:

Girls had a fun nite. Thanks 4 the bd pass. We didn't get first prize but good nite had by all. Brenda. Alias island girl.

Happy to help. We had a good night too. After deciding we didn't want to be the only people at Tupelo, we went down to the Good Luck Club, and yarned happily over a drink, then further up the street to the Havana bar, which was happily thronging as usual. We walked all the way down to the waterfront to see the Len Lye sculpture go off, only to discover that it didn't run after 10pm. Pussies. We had a whisky at Molly Malones, then headed home to deck out and listen to music. Saturday seemed to pass quickly and I arrived home to my loved ones, bearing takeaways from Salt. Gotta love that salt and pepper squid.

Matt Nippert emailed as to my rather infrequent blogging of late, inquiring if all was well. Mostly. There's been some illness in the family, on top of a mother of a workload (does that add up to a motherload?), including a big-ass feature for Metro that I'm really happy with. It's in the April issue.

What's been bugging me? Friggin' Tony Blair claiming that God will be his judge on Iraq, that's what. The man's a walking Messiah complex. Mate, you're an elected politician: the people will be your judge.

Claiming that God will be your judge is also, of course, only a hair away from claiming to be on a mission from God, which if I had my way would be grounds for instant dismissal from any significant position of secular leadership. The irony of the current face-off between the US and Iran is the shared millenialism of influential figures on both sides. In the US, it's dispensationalist Christianity (the rapture is coming, after the battle of Armageddon takes place in Israel; us heathens will be left behind; apart from the Jews, who will either be killed or converted), which has alarming penetration into the Republican Party. In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not only a crazed populist, but a believer in the return of the Mahdi, the Muslim prophet who will appear on earth during - you guessed it - the last days, which are imminent and will be ushered in by battle and bloodshed. In a nice twist, some believers in the return of the Mahdi think that once all the blood has been spilled and the unbelievers dealt to, Jesus and the Mahdi will live happily on earth together.

Now, if you could nominate the worst possible belief system for anyone with guns, bombs and authority (or trusted with making environmental policy, for that matter), this is it. The last people you want to run the world are the ones looking forward to it being all over next Wednesday, or shortly thereafter.