Hard News by Russell Brown


My Mum and other good things

Mum turned 70 last Saturday, and I said a few words. To be honest, it had been a bit stressful getting there. Our kids are sensitive to travel, and as a family we roll with more technology than U2. I felt the weight of some responsibility: originally, my sister had been meant to be there with her children too, but she's back in Australia, undergoing chemotherapy.

Arranging the dinner without her (she manages events for a living) wasn't really hard, but it carried an uncomfortable sense of portent. Happily, it went well -- thank you Sopranos Ristorante of Paraparaumu Beach, you are nice people – and even more happily, I was able to tell those present that the news from Australia had improved a bit, and that Karen was determined to stick around.

I also told them about Mum. From childhood, my mother has faced a series of challenges. She has lost loved ones in such terrible ways; she had to find such courage in my Dad's last years. I think some people might have become bitter through all that, but she never has. She has always maintained her good and loving soul. I think that I consciously seek and value in others the lack of malice she has always showed. We drank a toast to her.

"It's nice to hear it before I'm in my box," she said.

And then, as arranged, the waitress put on 'Dancing Queen' and Mum and I had a little dance.


On the way to the Coast, we spent a night in Wellington, at City Life (nice room, remind me to ask not to be near the breakfast kitchen on Level 5 next time) – and were confronted by the ongoing scandal that is New Zealand hotel internet service.

City Life's deal has some quirks. For a start, it's wired internet – and if you remove the ethernet cable from your computer, the system deems your session to have ended, and you're required to pay for another one. How business travellers who work with their laptops during the day manage this, I'm not sure, but I got Leo to set up my Macbook as the wi-fi sharing point.

And all was well, for a short while, until we hit the 100MB limit I hadn't been told about when I paid $29 for 24 hours service. We were presented with a choice of continuing at "high speed" at 10 cents a megabyte, or dropping to a "lower speed" at no further charge. You may guess which one we chose.

By the next morning, and after Jim had innocently enjoyed a game trailers session in his room, I was paying $75 for a few hours' internet use. In Wellington, where fribre runs past the hotel, this is particularly absurd.

What did keep running nicely was the iPad on the 3 gigabytes of Vodafone 3G capacity I'd purchased for the month (speaking of cons – prepaid data that expires after a month? WTF?). It passed the travel test with flying colours, and the Maps application was brilliant more than once. Fiona read a book on it, the kids played games, I tweeted – but the best moment was Leo staging a demonstration for a cluster of cooing nanas on Sunday. In his hands, it was, as they say, indistinguishable from magic.


I needed to catch up with Peter Griffin of the Science Media Centre on Monday, and he said, there's an event near you at 6pm: see you there. Would I know anyone there? Would I what. The event turned out to be the inaugural Wellington Nerd Nite, staged by Aimee Whitcroft and Brian Calhoun, and I knew half the room. Nerd Nite is in the spirit of Ignite/petchakutcha, but with more time for jokes. I had to miss Chelfyn Baxter's talk on ways of reaching orbit, but Daniel Spector's early history of the automobile was splendid, as was Daniel's white suit.

If there's a Nerd Nite up here, I'm in.


So it was back to work, where things were falling over – including our producer, with a case of campylobacter. But as often seems to be the case – perhaps because we all have to focus harder – the show that struck trouble turned out very well.

You can watch the Media7 show about Wikileaks and other secrets, with Paul Buchanan, Jon Stephenson and Selwyn Manning here, and there's a full-length version of the satellite interview with Paul here.


Tonight, at 10pm on Maori Television, you can watch another Top Shelf show – the TV version of The Nutters Club. Mike King's Radio Live show for by and about people with mental illness and other forms of difference, has become a phenomenon, and I really applaud Maori Television for not only putting the show on air, but leading it in with its strongest show, Homai Te Pakipaki.

It's a TV shot during a radio show, and there are one or two awkward moments in tonight's opener, but actor Nicola Kawana's discussion of her recurrent panic attacks is amazingly frank. The show's core message —you are not alone, there are others like you and it's okay to be a bit of a nutter – is so valuable.


NZ On Screen's National Film Unit Collection, compiled with the assistance of Archives New Zealand, launched this week. Most of the titles have been added over time, but it's illuminating to have them in one place, along with background essays from Roger Horrocks, Lynton Diggle, Paul Maunder and Sam Pillsbury.

As Pillsbury puts it, the NFU was "a sort of hideout for slackers and innovators," and the collected works are sprinkled with surprises: unexpected wit, disarming artiness, ambitious shots.

Take, for instance, the 1948 Weekly Review short, Rhythm and Movement, with music by Douglas Lilburn. Its treatment of rhythmic gymnastics as an escape from the shopfloor and the clothesline was regarded as a bit risqué at the time, and I'm not surprised. If you don't see the sexuality in this you're really not looking at it:


Fast forward to the present, and women dancing, and there's this clip of the New Zealand troupe Request winning their gold medal in the adult section of the World Hip Hop Dance Championship this week. It's vibrant and amazing, in an age where teams of all sorts are prone to drop a haka, the one at the end of this really means something and makes sense. This is inspiring and makes me teary-eyed …

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