Island Life by David Slack

No more hedgehog jokes

I should be careful what I write here, because I notice Mr Steve Braunias got in a bit of trouble for doing something similar a while ago. If you get mail that wasn't intended for you, the sensible thing - the prudent thing - the morally correct thing to do is to send it on to the intended recipient. Bugger that. Let me share my mail with you.

I have the domain name, as in "automatic writer". Not as in "motoring journalist". Believe me when I tell you I am really not the type. I've put a big end through a block, I've done several 360 degree turns on ice on the access road to Mount Hutt, and I've brought a truck around a corner on three of its six wheels, but it would be wrong to interpret any of that as suggesting petrolhead tendencies. The correct interpretation would be failed to pay sufficient attention. A car, for me, is something to get you from one place to another without having to endure any crap music.

But I'm starting to wonder if I should be taking a little more interest in motoring and turning into a car-spotter fan site. The reason for this interest can be captured in one tantalising word: junkets.

And here we come to the point where I share my email with you. Over the years, a steady steam of messages has washed into my mailbox from car makers. Some appear to be shotgun mail-outs - anything with "auto" in the address will do. Others are more interesting. Various journalists working on car publications have mangled their address and their correspondence has ended up in my intray. Recently, some fellow in America appears to have mistakenly told the people at Land Rover that they can contact him at . He does not share my first name and yet the interesting email I received begins with the inviting phrase "Dear David". It continues:

Please review the attached schedule of activities and letter from Larry Rosinski for details of our upcoming 2006 Range Rover program in Napa, California. Note that you will be met by a Land Rover representative in the BAGGAGE CLAIM area at SFO.
If you have any questions or have any unexpected delays along the way, please contact me or any of the Land Rover Public Affairs team.
Look forward to seeing you there.
Safe travels.

Naturally, I open the attached schedule of activities and the letter from Larry. What fun we will be having in Napa! Larry is looking forward to my arrival in San Francisco for the first opportunity to drive the Range Rover for 2006 in the United States. He has designed a program that will allow me to become immersed in the product and interact with Land Rover executives from both the US and Global who were directly responsible for the vehicle's design and development.

An attached document outlines the two days' schedule of activities. He asks me to note - and I most certainly do - that he has packed the program with drive opportunities for me - literally from the moment I am met upon arrival in San Francisco and make my way to the beautiful Napa wine region in The 2006 Range Rover.

Our program will include both on- and off-road driving, so I must pack appropriate sturdy shoes and outer wear. Temperatures in Napa during this time are normally in the 60's during the day and dip into in the 40's at night. As our evening activities may be outdoors I should pack a jacket. Attire for our final evening's dinner is business casual. Sport jackets, but no ties are suggested for gentlemen.

Larry, I am so there. Even the hotel looks entirely up to standard for a discerning motoring writer such as myself.

Sadly I failed to read the invitation until this morning, and the bloody thing starts tomorrow. Even if I could get there in time, Mary-Margaret's class is having an overnight camp in the school playground on Thursday and I lost the toss with Karren.

But my mind is racing with fresh inspiration. How hard could it be? I could transform into a review site. You don't have to know jack about cars - just re-purpose the copious volume of PR material that spills out each day from the car manufacturers and then spice it up with the disgruntled criticisms of the enthusiasts and other people who know what they're talking about on the discussion boards that litter the net. I could even go further and do an Average Joe review of cars: no expert knowledge required; just the impressions of a test-driver who thinks that a car is something to get you from one place to another without having to endure any crap music.

Instant Jeremy Clarkson, in other words. Just sit back and wait for the invitations to roll in. I have an acquaintance in Wellington in the car business. He gets obscenely well-treated by the car manufacturers. Junkets all over the place. If you're reading this, Williams, tell me if I'm on the right track here. You could start with your mates at Land Rover.

The best thing of all about this is that journalistic ethics need scarcely trouble me. No less an expert than David W Young has declared that bloggers aren't journalists, so I'm in like a big dog. I once had the pleasant task, in my life as a PR flack, of escorting a group of journalists to London with British Airways. Front of the plane the whole way. That didn't suck. I have to say that none of them looked too pained at the feeling of being ethically compromised by the faintly-implied obligation to write something nice about BA. Mr Brown had to wrestle with similar demons in his time as an IT writer, and I'm pretty sure he resolved them to his satisfaction.

So instead of writing about John Tamihere - a man who must surely have a great career behind him (every bit as colourful but every bit as doomed as that of John A Lee), or the deeply puzzling nature of current police administration, or the impressive tale of the man who was, when you think about it, only the second choice as Pontiff in 1978, I am directing my thinking to matters altogether more venal. I might even have to change my position on that marvellous car race we didn't get.

David Young has informed me that he was not in fact the author of the paragraph in question, and that the dog-biting folk really do write as a collective on occasion. Sorry about that. A real journalist wouldn't make the assumption, of course.

Meanwhile, Tony Judd offered this splendid link describing a journalist's experiences of ethical dilemmas at the wheel of a shiny new Volvo.