I was unsure what to expect when Rodney Hide showed me into his office. The MP for Epsom was wearing a worried frown; it wasn't long before he explained why he wasn't his usual cheerful self today.
"I've just been reading the latest statistics for 'P' abuse," he tells me. "You know, I get really worked up when I see the effect that 'P' is having on this country. It's not so much the crime, the wasted lives, or the broken marriages -- it's more serious than that. As I see it, each new 'P' user is another nail in the coffin of sniffing."
The practice (or "art" as Hide prefers to call it) of solvent sniffing is a subject dear to his heart. "For many of us, the tradition of sniffing is what defines us as New Zealanders," explains Hide. "It puts us in touch with our cultural heritage, helps to clear the nasal passages, and prevents the build-up of mucus in the brain. To my mind, the art of sniffing is a cultural treasure -- a 'taonga', as the Maoris would say."
Unlike most sniffers, Hide became involved with solvents in later life. "It's hard to believe, but I used to be a complete loser," he claims. "My life stumbled from disaster to disaster -- until eventually I sank so low that I ended up lecturing at Lincoln University. One day I was marking some student essays, and (as I suppose happens to many academics) I looked at my bottle of Twink and thought: 'Why not?' I never dreamt that it would turn my life around."
Hide's forehead gleams with enthusiasm as he explains to me how the experience led to his political enlightenment. "Prior to regular sniffing, I'd thought that ACT's policies were crazy. They seemed to be the very opposite of what was needed to fix this country. But as soon as I started to sniff then it all began to make perfect sense. And the more I sniffed, the more sense it made."
Fired-up on solvents, Hide introduced himself to ACT leader, Sir Roger Douglas. "It turned out that Roger was a sniffer from way back," recalls Hide. "So, of course, he invited me to be president of the ACT party. Those were great days. Roger and I used to pass around a tube of Ados S4, and churn out policy as fast as we could type."
It's only when I ask Hide how he relates to non-sniffers that I catch a glimpse of another side to his personality. "It's never easy to deal with closed-minded people," he admits sadly. "A case in point would be John Key. I have it on good authority that he's never sniffed anything stronger than PVA. Some people might ask whether a person like that has the clarity of thought to be prime minister -- I know it's something that's certainly a concern to me."
Fortunately for Hide, such moments of introspection are brief. Mere seconds later, he's almost exploding with excitement as he tells me of his success in lobbying for tax reform. "I'm sure that Bill English won't mind if I tell you that this year's budget will raise the GST rate from 12.5 per cent to 4Π per cent -- or, in other words, approximately 12.5663706143592 per cent. This means that New Zealand will become the very first country to have a tax rate that's an irrational number. The genius of this system becomes apparent when people make financial transactions using coins. They'll simply need to measure the total circumference of their coins, divide by the total diameter, and then multiply by 0.04 of the total value to work out GST. It's an incredibly simple concept, but one that would never have occurred to me without a rigorous regime of sniffing."
Although Hide has had considerable success in bringing ACT policy to parliament, he maintains that his greatest achievement is in mentoring other MPs. This assertion finds heartfelt agreement from his colleague Heather Roy.
"For example, just last week I was having difficulty finding the facts to back up our proposed education policy," says Roy. "Rodney sent me a bottle of Spraykote and a plastic bag, and my worries simply flew out the window. By the time I was finished, I didn't know whether I was Arthur or Martha -- I just knew that the Report of the Inter-Party Working Group for School Choice was a damn fine piece of work."
The alloted time for my interview has expired, and I shake hands with Rodney Hide. Pausing at the door, I glance back and observe him taking a can of petrol from a drawer in his desk. There is a hissing sound as he removes the cap; Hide lets out a deep sigh as his eyes roll back into his head.
I find it reassuring that while other MPs may concentrate their attention on the mundane, the mind of Rodney Hide is very firmly focussed on infinity -- and beyond.