Hard News by Russell Brown

Very Wellington

We emerge from Wellington Airport into a southerly scooting up from Lyall Bay. The sky is blue and clear above, but the sharp, chill wind is a shock after Auckland's muckier atmosphere.

Wellingtonians have been worn down by their weather this summer, but it's on the mend for autumn. Sort of. I'm glad I brought my Strangely Normal jacket.

We're in town - Joe Cotton, John O'Leary, the producers Ryan and Jarrod, and me - to record a couple of episodes of Off the Wire, the comedy news quiz. It's among a bunch of shows National Radio has been touring to promote the 101FM rollout. In Wellington, it's a part of the Fringe Festival. I am a Fringe performer.

We roll up to the Quest apartments on The Terrace. It's an office conversion, devoid of aesthetic appeal. O'Leary has his bed remade after he detects unusual stains on the covers. I sit down to read the news and make a few notes.

There's no minibar, which is bad, because I forgot to eat lunch, which is not like me. I figure I'd better save the "in-room continental breakfast" for tomorrow. There's no time to eat before we go up to Radio New Zealand, then Ryan forgets my sandwich. I have a beer for the calories, then two glasses of wine while we're recording the shows, and begin to feel quite light-headed.

It goes well - a full room of 45 people for both shows. Judith Tizard and Metiria Turei do really well considering they have both pretty much walked in the door and onto the panel. (Peters and Prebble have both held their own in the past too - without naming names, middling Tories seem to be the least funny.) Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords totally wings it and gets the best of the review, the jammy bugger. Mike Loder comes in for the second show and does his inimitable thing.

After, we hook up with some RNZ people and go to Burrito Brothers in Cuba St, where, finally, I can eat. Afterwards, while Joe is rounding everyone up for karaoke (and Mermaids afterwards, she reckons), I make a bolt for it and head back to Quest, where some scruffy folk are negotiating entry.

"You're Russell Brown," they say.

"You're Elemenop," I say.

Everyone's a genius after 11.

They're down for a VUW Orientation gig. Steriogram came down on our flight for the same show. They've been in America, where they had a video made by Michel Gondry and got a personal phone call from Steve Jobs after they sent him a nice letter. I like Elemenop better.

The following morning, I'm writing questions for two Mediawatch pre-records and listening to Gerry Brownlee debating "race-based" health policies with two health researchers on Morning Report. They're serious and apparently well-informed and he's off his rocker. When Dr Paparangi Reid takes him up on a sweeping claim that policies targeting Maori health deficits have failed with the words "That's not true actually," Brownlee starts ranting about how he'll just jolly well hang up now if he's going to be called a liar. I can't decide whether it's deliberate or he's just out of his depth.

The first of the Mediawatch interviews is a phoner with English dramatist Hugh Whitemore. We begin the interview and it is soon apparent that he's not interested in talking about reality TV, which he discussed as part of a recent lecture series, and which we had somehow thought he would further opine on. I pull some new questions out of my ass and he talks quite happily about TV drama.

Hugh Rennie, QC, arrives, for an interview about his friend, Warren Berryman, who died this week, narrowly making The Independent's deadline (the front-page headline is 'Berryman dies'). We've just had a programme element drop out, so we can talk for 14 minutes. We talk for 20, and it's great, more through Rennie's lucidity than anything else.

"That was a bit like addressing a jury," he says afterwards.

I walk over to an interview in Tory St, stopping for coffee and a muffin at Felix. The interview is with Murray Milner at Telecom, for a telecommunications story I'm doing for Unlimited. He says a couple of interesting things, but you'll have to read the story.

There's time to kill now: I wander around the usual places, and spend about half an hour at the crazy second-hand shop at the bottom of Cuba St. They have a half-price sale on books, and a surprising variety of New Zealand non-fiction and comedy, which is what I buy.

I get Ian F. Grant's The Unauthorised Version: A Cartoon History of New Zealand 1840-1987, a couple of Fred Dagg cheapies in that booklet format they used to publish Christmas quickies in, in the 1970s. And for my friend Kerry, I spy The Graham Kerr Cookbook. The recipes are a bit of a fat festival (and I'm sorry, but cooking squid by steaming it for three quarters of an hour?) but the book itself, with its heavy spiral binding, is a top piece of Kiwiana.

But the most interesting find is Right Out, the "inside story" of the Labour Party's 1972 election victory, edited by Brian Edwards. That election was a totemic time for the baby-boomers: not only in the Kirk victory, but the sudden and striking emergence of the Values Party. The book also contains a prophetic chapter by Rob Muldoon, headed 'We'll Be Back'.

I turn up to see Paul Swain at 3.30pm sharp, for another telecommunications interview, and don't have to wait too long. Swain's a good chap, apparently knows his turf well, but can't give a brief answer, even when he's running late. Michael Barnett waits patiently in reception.

Afterwards, Kerry collects me by the Cenotaph. We're heading for Moore Wilson. Goody. We pick up her daughter Jesse from the library on the way.

Moore Wilson Fresh rocks. Quality, choice (five specialist bakeries!) and not too expensive. You can't get that free-range corn-fed chicken fresh up north, which is a bugger. Organic chooks are really expensive these days. I bump into Jonty King, who has a movie project on the go, a horror. We duck over to Moore Wilson Variety for some Royal Porcelain bowls and wine.

Back in Melrose, I cook dinner, we drink the wine and Simon and I talk about the SCO Unix case. And stuff.

On Friday morning, I come in to record the Mediawatch script, and then have a coffee with our reporter Colin Peacock. Then it's around the corner for an interview with broadband hero Richard Naylor at Citylink, then a good lunch with Tom Frewen and Natasha Utting at Leuven, then a couple of glasses of Sleeping Dogs chardonnay with Mark Cubey at the Nikau, out in the sun. Mark's still mad in a good way. He's heavily involved with the Fringe, which seems to be going very well.

That night there's a barbecue in Melrose, and we finish up with a little of the Longmorn single malt, which is, as Kingsley Amis used to say, a good glass: sherry, vanilla, candied peel. Only $66 at Whisky Galore, which seems a bargain.

Saturday is a brilliant dawn, and Kerry and I go fossicking in Newtown and Upper Cuba Street, which is a riot of bohemians and people with dogs on a string. "People go on about the community that'll be destroyed by the bypass," says Kerry. "But they forget that their community's only here because of the bypass. Otherwise there'd be fancy apartments."

Half of Wellington seems to be out in the sun. We hook up with the rest of the family and go and visit our friends Paul and Sue at their new house in Horokiwi, up a one-way road that sprouts from the motorway just before Petone, past the quarry where they filmed the Helm's Deep scenes.

The house will need plenty of work, but there's an old stable where Paul can eventually build robots, and a acre and a half of paddock. Sue's thinking of water buffalo - for the mozzarella - or possibly "miniature cows".

(Later on, I Google it, and find there are in fact many sorts of miniature cattle. Some people get them as a more manageable option for growing beef on lifestyle farms. I don't know why people get those Mini Panda cows, though. They looked completely munted in every picture. Something about them just screams "genetic corruption".)

That evening, we make our way to Linton Kwesi Johnson at Bodega. As we near the venue, we glimpse a silhouette of the man himself, through the front door of his hotel. It's an amazing image - pork pie hat and all. LKJ has great presence, but I'd rather have heard a poetry reading at a theatre than a bar. He's a bit bleak for a while, but finishes on an upbeat note with a very funny poem about being a "top-notch poet". On the blackboard in the toilet, someone has scrawled "Don Brash - racist trash".

Down the road, we run into Murray Cammick, who has brought Graham Brazier down to play some songs and talk to Kim Hill. Murray wishes Kim hadn't kept harping on about the drugs. We assure him that the interview was actually great.

We pass Cosmic Corner in Cuba Street, where people are queuing to buy party pills through a slot in the door. It’s convenient for the punters, but I can't help feeling that this is exactly the kind of thing that's going to get party pills banned.

Our friend Richard procures us entry to a great little bar at the Havana Coffee HQ. The funky DJ is cool, but it's moving a bit fast for us, and we have one drink and head for the hills.

Sunday is fine yet again; a major stroke of luck for the organisers of the Newtown Festival, which is exuberantly multicultural. I buy a present for Fiona - a glass mosaic tile - and then it's time to go to the airport. I check in at one of the new kiosks, which is sweet - especially given that most people don't seem to know how to use them. In Auckland, the atmosphere on the airbridge is immediately closer, and warmer. It feels a little strange. But comfortable.