Hard News by Russell Brown


Travelling Gravely

I often use Auckland Co-op Taxis' voice prompt system to call a cab from home. It's quicker and, it would seem, no less reliable than talking to a human. The system is now even sophisticated enough that you can use it to forward book a taxi.

Now here's the thing: I had assumed that when you booked a taxi in advance, it would turn up at about that time. I didn't expect to be standing on the street outside my house 25 minutes after the specified time wondering whether I was going to make my 9am flight.

Actually, I strongly suspected I wouldn't make the flight. I had called the Co-op operator who told me that they didn't have a car for me. When I explained I'd booked at that time not just for a laugh, but because I needed to catch a flight to Wellington, she switched me to the travel list -- as opposed to the "whenever you're free" list -- but it still took another quarter of an hour for a car to turn up. A further, major complication was the news from the operator that there were 22 minor accidents between us and the airport.

My driver certainly did his best for me, at one point inviting the ire of other road users by barrelling up the median strip of Mt Albert Road. We even tried a detour via Hillsborough Road, but it seemed that for several kilometres around the entrance to the south-western motorway, all the streets were gridlocked. Thousands of Aucklanders, and their kids, crawling along in resignation.

In the end, what can be a half-hour journey took 70 minutes and cost $90. Fortunately, I the person I was meeting in Wellington phoned through while I was still in traffic hell and managed to get me a new seat on the 10.30: the last seat on the plane, as it turned out -- and that was before the 10am to Wellington on Qantas was cancelled. Lord knows when those people got where they were going.

Along the way, I was a captive listener to Newstalk ZB: Hosking's brisk, breezy breakfast style and unabashed way with the ad-libs for advertisers; Hawkesby's mannered newsreading style. And then the talkback. Kerre Woodham must struggle to contain herself sometimes. The talk all morning had been of crime and South Auckland, and her first caller was a cracker: he demanded "zero tolerance" policing, which, he explained, meant that the police should subdue, handcuff and arrest anyone who was who did not "respect" them. "We don't have enough respect for authority in this country," he raged.

He did make an exception for Bruce Emery, who, despite having allegedly pursued and fatally stabbed a young man, warranted only sympathy and something approaching an apology from the police for wasting his time. You can read much more of this in the fetid depths of the Herald's 'Your Views' column, which has roiled all week with the latent sadism of the good folk of suburbia.

Actually, scratch the "latent" part. Over at Blogging it Real, dc_red notes the guy who thinks torture and fatal beatings in prison is the answer. On this page of Your Views, Lou from Rangiora proposes that anyone sentenced to five years or more in jail should be castrated. While here, Otto of Pt England takes a more moderate view: criminals should only be put "on crutches for life". Andy from Wellington calls for the government to "introduce reproduction licenses for those who want to have kids. This is to stop patently incompetent people from having children." Frequent admiration is expressed for the way they do things in Singapore and Saudi Arabia. And, yup, here's someone who wants the state to amputate the hands of thieves and taggers.

As my producer, Phil Wallington, noted, there seems to be quite a groundswell for sharia law in New Zealand.

(On a related note, I've posted all the links to this week's Media7 programme about perceptions of policing and crime here in the discussion thread that's been going on all week. It was a very useful panel discussion.)

Anyway, so I eventually made my meeting in Wellington and repaired thereafter to the Quest on Gilmer. I've promised the Wellingtonista a proper review, so suffice to say that Wellington's newest apartment hotel does not look like the pictures on its website, and if that's four-star accommodation then I'm Richie McCaw.

The evening was passed most pleasantly Chez Che, or, rather Che and Mary's inner-city pad, where the big man fed us pork belly, polenta and sauerkraut.

After a visit to Scoop in the morning, I hailed one of Wellington's Green Cabs to the airport. The driver was most felicitous, and called through to Auckland to arrange a pickup. I like the Green Cabs (comfortable, well-priced, quiet, low-emission), but, as the Wellingtonista have discovered, certain competing firms don't.

While we're on the social diary tip, shout-outs to Matt Nippert and Michelle Lafferty for a wonderfully warm and funny wedding last Saturday, and to my mate Andy for an excellent birthday party the night before, which involved a trip a few doors down to the Backbeat bar to hear Jed Town's new band, in which a stellar lineup (Jed and Matthew Heine on guitars, Gary Sullivan on drums, Tom Ludvigson on keys and Chris Orange on bass) plays Jed's back catalogue. I missed my earplugs a bit, but particularly liked the lurching funk of 'Backbeat', 'What's Going On' (where Heine's guitar part was gorgeous), 'Helter Skelter', and the finale, where Orange belted out 'Never Been to Borstal'. Choice.

Elsewhere, Poneke greets the solstice and Keri Hulme chimes in nicely, Andrew Clifford has an interesting post on Firefox's world-record bid for downloads, Chris Bourke pays tribute to Sam Freedman, "New Zealand's Irving Berlin" and the author of such standards as 'Haere Mai (Everything is Ka Pai)', who passed away this week at the age of 96, and my boy Leo has been having tons of fun with the Spore Creature Creator. Can't wait to see him play the full game, actually. But that will mean getting the kids' PC fixed again. Why is it that the only machine capable of reliably running Windows in our house is my iMac?

PS: The Dunedin Public Address readers' meet-up has been set down for 5.30 Wednesday, July 2 at the Craft Bar in the Octagon. Let Grant McDougall know if you'd like to go along: he's krautrockboy@hotmail.com .

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