Hard News by Russell Brown


My first thought when I came out the front of our house and saw the chimney on fire was how cool it looked. The kettle on top glowing and whizzing around, showering bright tracers across the roof like an expensive firework. It wasn't cool, of course. Your house being on fire is so not cool.

We had been alerted to the issue a minute before by a firm knock on the door from an off-duty cop, who had been visiting a friend in the street. A minute before that we had been puzzled by a whooshing noise in the fireplace and a sudden excitement in the embers. I'm not sure how long it might have taken us to deduce the problem on our own, but Constable Gibson, top work.

By the time we'd doused the fire and shut the flue, the spectacle was over, but the prompt arrival of the fire brigade was still very reassuring. A couple of the crew got up on the roof with our garden hose to inspect the chimney (after thoughtfully laying a tarp on the hearth inside) and the senior officer had a chat to us about different sorts of smoke alarm (we had one sort; we'd be well advised to get the other sort too).

It was our own damn fault, of course. We spent a bit of money having the chimney fixed and putting in a Jetmaster, but this year we couldn't get hold of our usual sweep and just let it slide. Big clumps of soot at the top of the chimney built up and, on a lazy Sunday evening, caught fire. Won't do that again, eh?

It had been some few days. On Thursday and Friday I was chairing laureate sessions for the Arts Foundation of New Zealand; getting up at 6am to knock out some early work, then chairing panels at 10.30am, 1.30pm and 7pm, with drinks and nibbles with the great and good afterwards. I didn't get home till 11pm both nights, which made for long, tiring days.

But it was good fun: I like artists for the same reason I like scientists - they're clever people with something going on. The first day I was with Bill Manhire, John Psathas and the scampish Peter Peryer; the next Gaylene Preston, Humphrey Ikin and Jack Body, plus Jack's wonderful pianist Gao Ping. It was a good experience to hear Jack's 'Sarajevo' piece played three times in a day, and start to get inside the work.

I had a good chat to Gaylene about many things, including her time in Britain, which was a decade and a half before mine. She lived in Cambridge, in a house where Syd Barrett used to come around and stare at the wall. One night, Carl Sagan visited to run through a slide show talk about Mars that he was giving the next day at the university. He was a bit miffed that the occupants were too stoned to treat the event with the gravity it warranted.

On Saturday, I finally got out to Nosh, the new food market launched by Richie Barnett the league player, to run a critical eye over proceedings and spend the $50 "Nosh dosh" with which journalists were being wooed. It's pretty good, but doesn't quite have the Moore Wilson magic. Wellingtonians would recognise Meat on Tory (nice, apart from some tired-looking chicken thighs - and I should note that the mini pork roast I got there tolerated the unexpected additional oven time prompted by the chimney fire surprisingly well) and Shoc chocolate from a few doors down. The patisserie was impressive, the vege section underwhelming, and I couldn't get near the deli counter, such was the crowd. The Mediterranean goods section was large, but could have done with something that felt a bit more like a bargain. The checkout system was excellent.

I daresay I'd be in at Nosh all the time if it wasn't on the end of the godawful drive to Glenn Innes (I start to hyperventilate if I drive too far east). But it's only one of a flock of new foodie hangouts coming to Auckland. None of which, unfortunately, I will be able to reach from Pt Chev without joining the traffic battle …

There was no need to scrub up for the evening's entertainment - it would be wrong to scrub up for a skateboarding movie, wouldn't it? Yes, it was the long-awaited world premiere of No More Heroes, Andrew Moore's five-years-in-the-making documentary about the golden era of New Zealand skating.

I was really, really happy for Andy. I've known him for more than 20 years, I was best man at his wedding, and it was wonderful to behold the full house that turned up to see his work at SkyCity: old skaters and their sons, old friends, all sorts. Afterwards, the reminiscing was uncontrolled. The film is funny and illuminating and tells stories you probably haven't heard before. Go see it at your local film festival.

Andy's interview on Saturday with Kim Hill ("nice fillum") is here and a One News report here.

After a quick feed at Joy Bong, my darling and I watched the rugby; and what an intense and absorbing test match it was, and what a colossal figure Richie McCaw is. The lineouts were, to put it mildly, a worry, though. The Haka crew have commentary and analysis, including another YouTube gem featuring Jerry Collins' amateur hairdressing moment, and an eagle-eyed accounting of every AB lineout by Tracey Nelson.

Having stayed manfully sober, I popped in to Andy's after-party, and left an hour or two later with a big ol' hug; the only words passing between us being the observation that no words needed saying. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he'd misspelled my name in the credits.

On Sunday, I chilled and wrote the Listener column I'd been too busy to write during the week. And my darling ventured into the Smith & Caughey sale and spent $119 on a big-ass 14" Circulon skillet. It was $119 we don't strictly have at the moment, but it was such a bargain, I've been after one of those suckers for ages and you never see them cheap like that. If I hadn't been seized by that-tummy-bug-that's-going-around in the small hours of Monday morning I'd already have sauteed up a storm with it.

So anyway, I'm catching up. Do read Tze Ming's verdict on the Brash immigration speech, which says pretty much what I thought. You can also hear him coming to bits under fairly restrained questioning by Mary Wilson. No Right Turn also has discussion and links about the rather odd launch of National's would-be homosexual cabal, the BlueLibs. Stephen Gray's right: inviting along a bunch of prominent poofs and then refusing to say the word "gay" all night is really a rather strange way to behave. And Tumeke! has Tim Selwyn's interesting prison blogging and some well-deserved scorn for National's Simon Power, who wants the site shut down.

New on the Interweb today: Radio New Zealand's New Zealand music features. With actual music!

And … There's a knock at the door. That'll be the chimney sweep.