This article is part of the Allan Dick topic. Below are more articles in this topic.
Well Done Sir Paul Holmes
Do you have any need to be worried about the Seabed and Foreshore Proposals?
Getting Your Tax's Worth (Allan Dick After Heart Surgery)
Defending the Indefensible?
Of Boats, Trains, the Crafar Farms and Cask Wine
What Has Happened to New Zealand Police
I Love Birds
Christchurch - Is the Scale of the Disaster Really Understood?
Going for a Walk
Going to the Toilet
Paul Henry: Did he self destruct? Or was it calculated?
Taking It Easy
Oamaru, Seal Pups and Human Behaviour
Oamaru: Under Valued
I've been Thinking
I Am Still Alive
Peter Bethune: Saving the Whales While We Do Nothing
Where Is The Tree?
Agentina In Three Days
Beauty and the Dogs
Xmas 2009 - Xmas Wishes from Allan
Kate the Dog Who Thought She Was Human
Thoughts in the Margin
A Lap of the North Island Part Two
A Lap of the North Island Part One
"This Is Going To Be Unpopular"
August 2009 Part Two
August 2009 Part One
June 2009 Part Two
June 2009 Part One
For Allan's blog pieces prior to April, please scroll below - happy reading.
Monday 16th February
Several years back, when I lived in a house with no off-street parking, I was woken in the dark, early hours of a Sunday morning by a noise. I investigated by getting out of bed and peering out a window. I saw a group of people messing about under the bonnet of my car, obviously trying to get it started. I knew instinctively that they would have had to damage the car somehow to get inside and the pull the bonnet release.
My car was a source of pride to me. I'd only owned it a matter of months, it was a rare model of a quality brand and I loved it as only a petrolhead can love a car.
I didn't think. I was consumed by a red rage.
How dare they! The bastards!
Personal aside — I sleep light. In other words, no 'jammies — like Marilyn Monroe, only me, the sheets and my Italian aftershave.
I roared outside, like Lewis Hamilton making a start in the Monaco Grand Prix, shouting "What the hell do you think you're doing —(very rude word) OFF!"
The five of them looked up from their tinkering around the engine of my car, saw this wild-eyed, naked human being flying at them, flecks of foam spraying as he shouted obscenities.
They turned and fled down the road.
I hadn't stopped to think — five burly men who could quite easily have trampled me into the footpath.
Then I saw that they had wrenched open the driver's door doing panel and paint damage.
Furious doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. My rage and anger soared to new levels.
I raced back into the house, grabbed the keys to my damaged car and raced out again, slid by naked bottom into the cold leather seat, jammed the key into the ignition, started it and took off after the would-be car thieves in a howl of tyres and a cloud of burning rubber, engine roaring.
All I wanted to do was see them in the headlights and run them over. Common sense and calm rationalisation had departed, leaving only blind, white-hot rage that anyone would want to damage my car, my pride and joy that I had worked so hard and so long for. What right did they have . . . .
Luckily for me, and them I suppose, I never saw them in the headlights of my car and by the time I had driven to the end of the road, common sense returned. I was still shaking with rage but I calmed down, returned home, made the car as secure as I could and went back inside to bed, but sleep wouldn't come.
I lay awake until daylight wondering. . . .
I knew I had been so angry that all I wanted to do was to hurt these dog turds that had dared to damage something of mine that I loved so much. I felt outraged, offended, invaded, violated, damaged, but I also knew that there was a very large question mark over what would have happened had I seen these men in the headlights of my car.
In all of my life I have never been as angry as I was in that brief two or three minutes, from the time I first saw then men, to the time when a semblance of common sense returned.
Would I have driven at them? Would I have really done them harm? I honestly don't know. But I do know that I was dangerously close to being out of control with anger.
So, in a way, I think I know what 51 year old Manurewa man Bruce Emery went through when he caught 15 year old Pihema Cameron tagging the fence to his house, chased him along the road and stabbed him to death.
I am sure that after his anger subsided, Emery would have gone into a state of deep shock and remorse and he'll wonder for the rest of his life how he could have lost control to such a degree. Or at least, I hope that was his reaction, but it has been hard to tell because all of the coverage of I have seen of his trial and sentencing shows him to be curiously unemotional. It was hard to "like" him from what we saw.
Like most of us in society I hate taggers, despise them. They are young men with small genitals who think that tagging somehow gives them masculinity, standing and makes up for their lack of manhood.
If they are caught, I think they get off too easily. They have no respect for the property of others, are anti-social and their behaviour and the primeval responses they raise among many of us is damaging — drives us back to the dark ages.
Is there a single soul out there who sees a tagged fence and says "poor kids, they do this because they are bored, I don't like it, but let's forgive them"?
No, we are angered by it. Enraged.
On the other hand, I think back to when I was 15 and experimenting with life, exploring boundaries and looking forward to each day as a new adventure — some new horizon to sail over, and I feel saddened by the loss of a young life.
An outpouring of grief by the Cameron family is one thing, but their outpouring of anger over the jail sentence of four years and three months handed down to Emery and the howls for revenge in the shape of a longer, tougher sentence are another.
I have enormous sympathy for the Cameron family, but I think I can understand what happened to Bruce Emery that night.
The judge got the jail sentence right. Justice had to be served, but the frustration that the wider public feels about tagging and the wanton violation of personal property also had to be recognised.
Friday 13th February
Arriving back in New Zealand from an overseas trip, no matter how brief, should be a pleasant experience. Why is it then that everything that happens at Auckland airport conspires to make it as difficult, as complicated and as unpleasant as possible?
I flew back into Auckland recently from Melbourne after two days in the great, sun-baked land where the local dialect sounds like a flock of geese talking politics. To be more precise it was the Tuesday night after the tragic bushfire weekend.
The Air New Zealand A320 was 30 minutes late departing, but the driver put his foot down and, assisted by a tornado-style tail wind we made great time. I watched a good movie, almost got through a second while the smoked fish pie was almost delicious by airline food standards.
It was five minutes past midnight when the pilot switched off the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign and we all started to shuffle our way off the plane like zombies and faced the journey of a million steps to the immigration folk.
By international standards, Auckland is a tiddler airport, yet the walk from the gates to the concourse itself must be one of the longest in the world, for the size of the airport. When you are tired, hot and only want to get home and get to bed — as most international travellers are — this walk is interminable. On and on. Then your path to the immigration desks is a trap of retail shopping. First timers must wonder if the smiling people at the duty free counters also double as the immigration officers.
The fact that to get access to the immigration counters you have to wind your way through a duty free shop is just one example of the blatant commercialism and money grubbing that is Auckland airport.
Through immigration and down into the baggage hall where other plane loads of people arrive, their bags are put on the appropriate carrousel and there are two announcements from Virgin Blue regarding two of their flights and where the bags are located.
Our carousel remains stationary and Air New Zealand is silent about the whereabouts of our bags.
The entire passenger compliment of flight NZ176 stood about, getting grumpier by the second as there was no sign of our bags and the PA system broadcast no information other than to warn us it wasn't too late to declare food items.
Ten minutes, 15 minutes, twenty minutes and no action. The passengers started muttering, but nobody seemed prepared to do anything about it.
Thirty five minutes after we had started disembarking the aircraft, Alastair Sloane, motoring editor with the Herald and I, marched off to the Air New Zealand baggage counter and asked what was wrong — and why there were no PA announcements like Virgin Blue had been making. One of the girls stared blankly at us, then picked up a walkie-talkie and made contact with someone called "Oscar" who said the bags would be there "in a minute".
We walked back to the assembled crowd who looked like they were fomenting a revolution and wanted to shoot all baggage handlers. But Alastair and I had been the only ones prepared to do anything about finding out what was wrong.
Forty five minutes after disembarkation the bags started to arrive — and the Air New Zealand team finally, finally, FINALLY, made an announcement and actually apologised for the delay which was due to a "technical problem." If Alastair and I hadn't made the song and dance, I'll bet there would have been no announcement and no apology.
By now I was really, really grumpy— a situation that wasn't helped by yet another new system to funnel you into the bio security check, where we had to walk to the far end of the hall, around some screens and walk all the way back.
By the time I got to the man sitting behind the desk grumpiness had turned into a high level of frustration. On top of it all it was 24 degrees, 97% humidity and it was now almost 1.00am! Well past my bedtime.
Now I have no objection to the bio-security checks. None at all.
But, the people who carry them out are employees of ours, working for us, they do impede your progress, they slow down your getting home and they do X-ray your baggage — all of which means that they should offer a level of courtesy.
The fellow at my counter was surly. I watched as he snatched forms off people, never looking at them, carried out conversations with other bio security people and looked like he really didn't want to be there. Frankly, I didn't blame him — I didn't want to be there either.
Eventually I walked up to him with my form that I had neatly and correctly filled in giving my name, date of birth, where I'd been and for how long and why and saying no I had no fruit, vegetables, stuff made of wood or seashells, I hadn't patted a Gnu, or tramped the Brazilian rainforest, my shoes were clean and I had no illegal substances.
I was hot, sticky, tired, my feet hurt with walk from the plane and then 45 minutes standing about — but I could see freedom! Just beyond the X-ray machines was the Real World where Keri, my wife was in my Nissan Pathfinder with my dog Kate!
Almost there. But then the surly bio security man who looked like he would sooner have been at home in bed blew it all.
He was actually looking behind him and talking to someone when I put my filled out form in front of him. He turned around and simply said — "Got any fruit with you. . ."
I knew at that instant there was going to be an issue. Why had I bothered filling out the form? Why had I bothered putting a little cross in all of those "NO" boxes where I'd been asked if I had fruit, vegetable, dirty shoes, illegal substances . . .?
So I responded with — "What does it say on the form?"
His surliness became raw, naked aggression!
"What! — Do you have any fruit?"
"Why did I bother filling in the card, I could've just waited until you asked me?" I responded, raising the tension about 95%.
"I'm asking you!" He shouted.
"Read the card." I responded calmly.
"Okay, go over there!" he commanded, pointing to the Full Search area.
Now, what I should have done was stood there and asked to see his supervisor and made a Real Scene, but other people were waiting, so I walked over and joined the short line of people from Samoa who'd come off a flight from Apia who had bags of food.
I stood there for 30 seconds, then walked to the head of the line and asked if I could see the shift supervisor.
He arrived in 30 seconds — a very pleasant young man who looked like he enjoyed his job and wasn't wishing he was at home and in bed.
I explained the situation. He went off, spoke to my man, came back, explained that he had been busy, under pressure but that they were also there to provide a level of service and apologised. He then carried my bags to the X-ray machines, went to the head of the line, put them into the machine and wished me a pleasant night.
Meanwhile, outside, the Auckland airport parking Nazis were on the prowl. 12:30 at night and there was an army of them moving people on if they as much as stopped. Parking is a major money earner at Auckland Airport and there is no flexibility at all. After being moved on three times, Keri went and parked away over the back but along came one of the Nazis in a golf kart with a flashing light and moved her along again. Sick of it, and wanting to be at home, Keri left the airport and drove around a nearby industrial estate until I phoned her using our cellphones to say I was waiting outside.
I hate Auckland airport. I hate the money grubbing attitude, I hate the bossiness, I hate the rampant commercialism that pushes places to spend money in your face everywhere you turn, I hate the lack of compassion and understanding to make life easy for people coming home after long, hot, cramped, sleepless flights, but above all, I am totally offended by their lack of good taste!
The truly awful concrete kiwis and moas outside have now been joined by a frightful wooden weta inside the domestic terminal.
The people who run this joint are all about making money and more money — and their lack of good taste shows in their choice of artworks!
Our visit to Australia had been brief — flew from Auckland to Sydney and on to Canberra on Monday. Drove from Canberra to Albury via the Snowy Mountain on Tuesday. Flew from Albury to Melbourne over the desolation of the bush fires.
Obviously the fires totally dominated the news in Australia, but there was some surreality about the way that life went on in such a matter-of-fact way while less than 50km away there was this dreadful disaster unfolding.
For anyone who still thinks that oil companies are "making millions of dollars each day in Auckland alone" — BP has announced a loss of US$3 billion in the fourth quarter of last year. That's about NZ$6 billion and one twelfth of our government's economic rescue package announced this week!
And if you still aren't convinced, how about the news that Shell — the second largest operator in New Zealand — is thinking about quitting the country? If oil companies were reaping the profits most of us imagine, why would they want to leave?
Finally, let's get some perspective on the question of what constitutes a hot day. This is written on Friday the 13th of February and for the past 12 hours the media has been breathlessly reporting Auckland's hottest ever day — 32.4 degrees. Eh? 32.4 degrees and that's considered hot enough for the Herald to devote more than half of the front page to it?
Every single summer, places as diverse as Christchurch, Culverden, Gisborne, Rangiora, Alexandra, Luggate and Ophir record several days where the temperatures are in the high thirties — 36, 37, 38. On those occasions the temperatures are consigned to the TV weather map — "the hottest place in New Zealand today was Bannockburn where the temperature reached 39 degrees".
Auckland's 32.4 degrees yesterday was piddle stuff and the fact that it made such Big News was because of two reasons. The first is Auckland's preoccupation with itself and the second is that our major news services are based in Auckland and the people who work in them know nothing of life outside the city.
The hottest temperature recorded in New Zealand was 42.4 degrees and that was in Rangiora in 1973.
To put things right in perspective, the hottest day recorded in Iceland was 30 degrees — and that would have deserved the sort of media hype accorded Auckland's 32.4! The hottest day in the UK was 38.5 and even Finland, right up there by the Arctic Circle, can beat Auckland hands down with a hottest day of 38.5!
But again, if the temperature plunges to eight or nine degrees Aucklander pile on clothes, light fires, and complain about it being "freezing".
Freezing? Doesn't even come close. The coldest temperature recorded in a town in New Zealand was -21.6 in Ophir on July 1993.
Thursday 5th February
I'm using this blog to respond to Don's comments at the bottom of this page.
Nope Don, I'm not the right person to heap abuse on the oil companies because I don't think they are anything like the crooks that the public at large imagine them to be. They are not charitable institutions either, I think that they are simply Big Business trying to make reasonable profit on investments that, globally, are bigger than the New Zealand GPD.
I've said this before, and I always get a solid round of abuse, but I'm thick-skinned, so here goes again.
A decade ago I was talking to the man who headed the giant Ford Motor Company. He was Sir Alex Trotman, a Scotsman and I asked him what he saw as the future for diesel powered cars. He said that diesel wasn't a priority, but then he also added — "but of course, you realise that petrol is so cheap as to have no real value."
At first I was stunned. I had always begrudged pouring petrol into my car because I thought petrol should be cheaper than it was.
But that was a defining moment for me, I thought about it. Thought about it a lot.
Motorists around the world have undervalued the worth of petrol for more than 100 years.
Take the price of a litre of almost any other liquid commodity we use regularly and compare the price and the value-for-money you get from that, with petrol. And then factor in the cost of getting that product from the raw source and to the market place.
A litre of milk — about $2.50 to $3.00 I'm told.
A litre of soft drink, say Coke. The price varies hugely, say from $3.00 to $5.00.
But the real ripper is water. Go to your service station, pour a litre of petrol into your car at a cost of about $1.65 -1.75 and at the same time buy a litre of water. You'll probably need to buy two of those 750ml bottles with the flash dispenser sipper lids on the top, but the cost can be $5.00 or $6.00.
Compare the cost of obtaining, refining, packaging and delivering to the retail outlet all of the above and see which product is overpriced.
You get nothing but your thirst quenched from the water. Coke will also quench your thirst and add sugar to your bloodstream. Not sure about milk as I loathe the stuff.
But a litre of petrol will transport you and your family about 15kms down the road. And which cost, by several times, the most to produce? Well, it's certainly not bottled water.
Which gives the best value for money? No real argument about it is there?
I suppose you could argue that the oil companies are quick to put up prices and slow to bring 'em down. But then you could say that about all commodities where prices fluctuate.
I have seen the behind-the-scenes operation of a major oil company in New Zealand and spoken to the man who makes the call on prices on a daily basis. He's an ordinary family joker, works in a large open-plan office in Wellington and wears a jersey to work. He doesn't have two heads, breathe fire and want to rip-off the public.
He's a nice, mild-mannered bloke who knows that he's unpopular — "I'm the fellow the public hate," he said, shrugging his shoulders. He makes his call on whether the retail price should increase, decrease or stay the same on a large number of factors.
Does he work in collusion with his counterparts at other oil companies?
"No," he laughs, laughs because he's heard it all before, many times. "I have no idea who they are, we never meet and never speak."
Suspicion about the price of petrol is nothing new. When the government set the price increases and decreases, they were always announced at 5:45pm, in time to make the 6.00pm TV news. I worked at a radio station and we would make these announcements a "News Flash" and immediately, motorists would change direction and head to service stations, creating long queues all to beat the price increase.
If they had thought about it logically the savings weren't really worth the effort. This was in the days when we spoke of gallons rather than litres. Most car had 10 or 11 gallon fuel tanks. If the price was rising by 2 cents a gallon they would be saving 22 cents — but only if their tanks were bone dry and that was unlikely.
When Fletcher Industries entered the retail petrol market with Challenge in the early 1990s they started selling petrol 2 cents a litre cheaper than the established brands — and there were huge queues at the first Challenge station to open in Auckland.
I was at Radio Pacific and I went out to interview the motorists.
Across the road was a BP station whose forecourt was deserted while there were four or five cars waiting at every pump on the Challenge forecourt. I spoke to one fellow who was four back from the pump and waiting.
He was driving a mid-sized Japanese car that I knew had a 60 litre fuel tank. I asked him what he thought of the cheaper fuel and, of course, he was all for it. I asked him how much he was going to save by filling up at Challenge. "Oh, heaps." He would never get the job of Minister of Finance with that approach, so I asked him to be a bit more specific — dollars and cents. "Oh, twenty-five bucks."
I saw his fuel gauge was registering about half full and when I told him he would be saving about 60 cents he didn't believe me.
So what is it about petrol that makes us expect to get the stuff for nothing?
Part of the reason is that it's a grudge purchase. We all drive our cars until the last minute, fuel warning light glowing angrily, before he head to a service station. But its also a purchase we don't actually see. It's not something you can hold and admire — it just gets pumped from a nozzle directly into the hidden depths of the fuel tank.
Our antipathy towards petrol goes back to the dawn of motoring when oil was mostly found in areas of the world where people were poor and were glad to get any money for the stuff. This meant that oil was cheap and petrol was cheap. And because we have become so reliant on it, the habit of cheap petrol is part of our culture.
So, Don, I'm, sorry. I'm not the person to wage war against the oil companies — apart maybe from their politics. During the 1930s, at least, they were nasty buggers, starting and stopping wars in some small countries to gain access to oil.
But today, they operate in a reasonable and responsible fashion in that regards.
New Zealand is a largish country with a small and scattered population. The market is so small that it could easily be handled by a single oil company. Instead we have five oil companies in the North Island, four in the south, all competing for a small slice of a small market.
And selling petrol in Haast takes a lot more in terms of infrastructure and delivery cost than bottled water.
Oil companies find it very difficult to make a buck from petrol only in NZ, which is why there are now shops attached to all service stations. There's more money in pies and Moro bars than petrol. And a lot more in bottled water!
If you want to point the finger at a product that is really overpriced look at bottled water. Ever here a word of protest from the millions of New Zealanders who appear addicted to their bottle, taking it with them everywhere like Linus and his blanket. And sipping pretentiously. Bottled water has become a fashion accessory.
Wednesday 4th February
No matter how you say it — the gravy train is back in the station, or the beast needs to be put back on the leash, the result is the same — we are heading into a vastly changed world.
The way the world has operated under capitalism's ultimate expression, The Free Market, has come to a halt. It hasn't eased to a halt — but come to a screaming, crash. This is a train wreck of enormous proportions.
This year is barely a month old and the predictions of the experts are becoming more dire by the day. Late last year some of the more advanced thinkers were hinting that we were heading into a financial catastrophe.
Today even the most cautious of the financial tea-leaf readers are saying we're in a period of global recession while the advanced thinkers are now hinting at economic Armageddon.
I don't pretend to understand the stratosphere of global economics, but I do know that man created the mess and man can fix it. "Man" you understand is a generic term for both men and women here.
This is not an object the size of a young moon hurtling towards Planet Earth over which we have absolutely no control. It is not a tsunami, an earthquake or a thousand year flood. It is a situation that was created entirely by us, all of us, letting greedies use The Free Market with an audacious recklessness.
I guess that because this website is aimed at more mature people, the so-called baby-boomers, there will be many reading this who lost money in last year's domino-like collapse of New Zealand finance companies.
You invested your money in these finance companies because they offered good returns. These finance companies, in turn, advanced your money to borrowers. Nothing new in that, it's the way the "banking system" has worked for hundreds of years.
But there used to be a need for some sort of collateral to guarantee the safety of the loan and the financial institutions used to make sure that the people they were lending your money to were in a position to be able to pay it back.
In my earlier life, I had two or three applications for mortgages or credit cards turned down (a) because the institution I approached wasn't liquid enough or (b) they weren't certain that I met their tough security requirements.
Once, getting a home mortgage was heart-in-the-mouth stuff while you waited for the "yes", or "no". And getting a credit card was a privilege.
The Free Market saw all of those old safeguards tossed out the window and we headed into financial free-fall.
The world exploded on credit.
In the finish, lending institutions in the US were offering 105% and 110% on home mortgages — even to people they knew had not a hope in hell of meeting their obligations.
"You need that house, you have no deposit, no job? Doesn't matter, we'll finance you and why not have a new car while you are at it?"
New Zealand wasn't exempt.
In the past decade, car dealers have made a lot of money in writing hire purchase deals. The money paid as a sort of back-hander to give finance and insurance companies the business from the sale of a car could be greater than the actual profit on the car itself.
Looking back from even this short distance in time since the sh*t hit the fan, it is obvious that we were living in a fool's paradise.
Credit was just too easy to get — for everyone. From kids leaving school wanting credit cards, to people seduced by the thought of owning a boat, to businesses wanting to expand, the money to do these things was not just available, it was being thrust at you from every quarter. Competition to supply you with money was cut-throat.
Now it's all come crashing down and the more responsible of the irresponsible who allowed it to happen will admit that "mistakes were made" in the great Free Market experiment.
There is a growing awareness that this is not just a temporary blip from which we will emerge and things will be back the way they were. To get out of this requires more than just a little belt-tightening and riding out the storm.
There need to be some very basic, fundamental changes. Anything else is simply, to use a cliché, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I don't know the answers, but when we do emerge from the gloom in maybe a year, maybe two, maybe three we will enter a world where there are some of the old restrictions and barriers back.
The past ten or twenty years has clearly shown that the human race is not responsible enough to keep The Free Market in check.
The modern world has been built on a foundation of credit which was created by credit which was also created by credit.
By mid-2009 we will have some idea of the scale of this calamity. There will still be some incredibly wealthy people. There will be some who have lost their shirts. And there will be crooks running free who helped create this shambles. The sad thing is that there will be millions of people who will be totally innocent of everything except going along with what everyone else was doing.
Some ask what happened to individual responsibility? Those who bought houses, boats, took overseas trips, ran up credit card debt, none of which they could really afford, only have themselves to blame. But when the world around you goes mad, you go mad too.
Today, as I write this, the media is full of stories about how hard-nosed banks are when it comes to breaking fixed mortgages. People who signed up for fixed interest rate mortgages are now bleating that since interest rates have been slashed, they should be able to quit one mortgage for a cheaper one.
Fine. But what would they be saying if interest rates went skyward and the banks wanted to increase the rate on their fixed mortgage?
When I was seventeen and wanted to buy my first car I found one that cost £100. In those days the financial requirement was 50% deposit and the balance over 12 months. That was the iron-clad rule. I saved the £50 deposit and my parents were horrified at the thought of me getting into debt so fresh from school and into work. Because I wasn't 21 — the legal age — I had to plead with mum and dad to come into the car sales and sign the hire-purchase documents.
Our parents and grandparents and probably our great-grandparents had the saying — "look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves."
That's something we're going to have to learn all over again.
THE BRAINPOWER OF A COFFEE TABLE
Maybe you remember Ewart Barnsley? He was one of the tax-payer funded journalists that used to work on the television channels that you and I own. I guess deadly serious, or deadly dull, would be the way to describe his on-screen presence.
I have no idea when Mister Barnsley disappeared from our screens, but he's popped up again as the apologist for the NZ Transport Agency. This is a state outfit, so he's still working for you and I.
Who is/are the NZ Transport Agency? This appears to be the latest guise of the former Land Transport Safety Authority which morphed into the Land Transport Authority when they dropped "Safety" from the title. Now they have merged with Transit New Zealand to become an even bigger outfit. This is definitely a case where size doesn't equal intelligence.
Ewart Barnsley is pumping out a world record number of media releases each day over the new stretch of motorway north of Auckland.
This is the piece that heads north from Orewa and includes a twin tunnel arrangement. This is a toll road.
It's the first toll road in NZ for a long, long, long time — not including the Lyttleton Tunnel and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
It was built at significant cost but it still goes nowhere and dumps the traffic back onto the old goat-track SH1 where there's gridlock and chaos.
Previously the northern motorway dumped traffic into the suburban back streets of Orewa causing all manner of problems.
Why they don't just get on with it and complete the bloody thing before opening short sections to nowhere is a great mystery to me.
Everyone in the galaxy knows that Aucklanders hate their city so much that they rush lemming-like out of the place for every long weekend and the return back to the city is always a nightmare.
So, what do the bosses at NZ Transport decide? They decide to open this new section of toll road at the end of Auckland's Anniversary weekend! In itself, whoever dreamed up that opening date could represent New Zealand in the Stupidity Olympics.
Add to that the magnetic-like appeal of having something as exciting as not only a new stretch of motorway, BUT ALSO TUNNELS and you were always going to get bored Aucklanders, who didn't leave the city, just driving out to take a gander!
Those two things on their own were always going to guarantee the traffic jam from hell.
Someone with maybe half a gig of intelligence realised that this was going to be a total shambles and, at the last minute, delayed the need to pay tolls. I think that may have been an initiative of the Minister of Transport Stephen Joyce. But the result was still a total shambles. There was a massive traffic jam.
But there's something else that really underscores the incredible lack of brain-power in NZ Transport. No matter how many times they change the name, no matter how many other government departments they merge with, this outfit makes the characters in the movie Dumb and Dumber look like Albert Einstein.
I have no objection to toll roads. Late last year I scuttled back and forth across France using their superb toll roads. They're fast, effective and efficient. Come to the end of a toll section and you simply drive up to one of half a dozen (or more) booths spread across a toll plaza, pay your money and drive off. Fast and simple.
The French have a reputation for being difficult, but their toll system is effortless.
Instead of looking to France, the planners at NZ Transport apparently took a look at how the Australians made life as difficult as possible for Melbourne motorists when they opened new motorways over there.
No toll booths, you pay electronically — somehow. How you pay is a mystery.
You are driving along a motorway and next minute you see signs that tell you you are now on a toll road and if your electronic doofer isn't in credit someone's gonna get you!
There are also small signs that say if you want help or further information then you should ring such and such a number. Great! Stopping on motorways to write the number down is illegal and so is using your cellphone from a moving car!
Talk about bright!
NZ Transport has taken the worst aspects of this system and added to it.
You can pay in advance — but they want you to pay a significant wad of dough in advance.
The toll is two bucks, but NZ Transport is urging motorists to buy 10 trip lots via a website, or an 0800 number.
These people may be dumb, but they're not totally stupid, they obviously learned economics from Al Capone!
Oh yes, there are toll booths — but you have to drive off the motorway to get to them and they are woefully inadequate in terms of numbers as there have been long queues of motorists wanting to pay their money leading to increased blood pressure, risk of stroke and heart attacks.
If you just sail on through and ignore everything then NZ Transport give you three days to pay up, or else. I'm not sure what the "or else" entails, but it's almost certain to include bamboo splinters under your finger nails and electrodes clamped to your pink bits.
And this is what poor old Barnsley is trying to defend — the indefensible.
Pathetic! You couldn't have made a bigger cock-up of it if you had gone to University and got a degree in Blunders!
Thursday 4th December
I'm not sure that the New Zealand news media is doing a good enough job on the economic woes the world is facing. I say "I'm not sure" because of all of the people I know, I'm the least qualified to make any sort of call on economic matters.
But I ask the question because I am getting mixed messages from the people I am in contact with on a daily basis.
On one hand I have people assuring me that "New Zealand will be OK because we're insulated". I even have people saying that this is all a bit of a beat-up and it's another Y2K or bird flu scare.
But, on the other hand, I also deal with business people who are very firmly keeping their hands in their pockets and not spending anything at all.
I publish magazines and that's a trade that's very dependent on the advertising dollar to make the wheels go round — a cliché that's particularly apt when two of my magazines deal with motor cars.
In the past two months, the motor industry in New Zealand has come to a tyre-screeching halt, advertising has almost ceased and people all have long faces.
There's even talk of one of the bigger brands escaping New Zealand, leaving us for good.
Try telling these people that "New Zealand will be OK, or that nothing's really going to happen because this is another Y2K. In case you have forgotten, Y2K was the calamity that was going to befall us all when midnight ticked over on December 31st, 1999. Nothing happened except it became the year 2000.
I've been overseas twice since the international money system went toxic and the media coverage in other countries is far more insistent, probing and dour than ours.
Part of our problem is that most journalists these days are youngsters who wouldn't know a story if it bit them on the bum — the story about the UK putting up its long-haul departure tax and how it was going to badly affect our tourism industry was a classic case of a kid getting it wrong and not thinking.
I can't see how we can't be affected if the world goes pear-shaped. We are too small and that old story about the US sneezing and NZ catching cold is as true as it ever was.
I'd like some in-depth research into what really is happening to the NZ economy — is the dairy industry on a steep slippery slope, or just a shallow one? What is the real situation regarding property prices and property sales? What we are getting is shallow, glib and ambulance chasing.
A bunch of New Zealanders get caught in Thailand because of a pretty sizeable protest is interesting, I guess, but it doesn't deserve the blanket, saturation coverage it's got.
My only curiosity about this story was "what were these people doing in the sex capital of the world anyway?" And maybe — "don't tell me they expect the NZ taxpayer to rescue them?"
They weren't in danger of anything but having an extended holiday that maybe they couldn't afford.
Read our papers, watch our TV, listen to our radios and you'd think that it was only, or at least mostly, New Zealanders who were stuck at Bangkok airport. We'd have been in a minority, I'm sure.
I know that I've been doing my bit to keep the economy going. I go out for cheap eats as often as I always have. I still drink beer after work. And I'm off to Invercargill by road just about as soon as I finish this blog.
But the places I frequent tell me business is quiet.
So, while I am highly critical of the performance of the NZ media, it seems that there are plenty of people out there who do think that maybe the financial world is about to end — at least as we know it.
Fear feeds on itself and I think there's plenty of evidence of that afoot at the moment.
I detest the world of financial high-fliers now more than I ever did. They have the individual thinking capacity of David Lange's famous reef fish and go into a panic at the first sign of anything.
The economy is not a Tsunami, or an earthquake, or an avalanche over which we are powerless. The economy is driven precisely and exactly by what it is that those taking part in it do. If the economy is failing, it's up to every one of us to get it cracking again.
Not going to the pub, not buying a new car, not having an Indian meal or not buying 36 pages of advertising in my magazines ain't going to fix it. Those actions just make things worse.
Yes, despite the appalling lack of intelligent coverage by the NZ media, I do detect a climate of fear out there and the only way most people know how to treat that is to retreat into the bunker.
Me? I'm off to the service station to fill up my car. It will cost about $110 and should take me to Wellington.
Monday 1st December
Since my last blog, I've spent two days in Auckland hospital having a nose job and while the world is full of complaints about our health system, the level of service from staff is better than from Air New Zealand while the food quality is about the same. A bit of a shortage of wine selection though.
Seriously though, it seems everyone in the public health system has been through intensive training in how to make you feel special and that you are the only person in the world with your particular ailment.
About six years ago the left side of my nose blocked virtually overnight. At the time it didn't worry me as there was the other side and it worked well enough.
Someone told me it could be serious and so I had a scan which showed a small growth blocking the left nasal passage called a polyp and was told that while not serious, it had to come out.
Shortly after that I got involved in a kidney donation and thought I'd had enough of hospitals for a while and struggled on with one nostril only working.
But I delayed it for so long the polyp developed into a benign tumour the size of a golf ball and two months ago was told it had to come out and I was short-circuited into the public health system.
At Greenlane Hospital I met Doctor Dev Tandor, a man of infinite charm, patience and concern. I had postponed the initial appointments because I was firmly committed to an overseas trip, but this time, the day after arriving back from Los Angeles, I was showered, shaved and dressed at 7am awaiting admission at Auckland public hospital.
This is what they call direct admission. A group of us were waiting at the main reception desk, a hospital orderly arrived, gathered us together and like a tour leader marched us along corridors, up lifts, through doors and along some more corridors, dispersing us into various rooms along the way where we were checked over, changed into hospital clothing and were into the system, very smoothly.
The anaesthetists were a comedy duo — one told me funny stories while the other slipped the lure or line into the back of my hand without me feeling a thing — and the post operation nurses were lovely.
And that's all I remember until I woke up three or four hours later surrounded by visions in blue and a large wad of cotton wool taped under my nose.
I was kept in overnight and sent home with a wad of prescriptions for all manner of stuff, told to take two weeks off work, not do any heavy lifting and not fly for at least a month.
Two weeks off? They had to be joking. I was back at the office an hour later, sitting at my computer and had already had five arguments, scared Kate the editorial Border Collie under the desk and abused someone who sent me an email I didn't like.
One of the drugs they gave me "can create mood changes in some people — advise those around you" it said in the "what to do when you get out" manual.
Maybe I should have gone home and mowed the lawn, chopped down a tree or something else!
But the drug also makes me decisive. I've done something I've been thinking of doing for a long time and that's resigning from my radio slot at Radio Bsport on Saturday mornings. The last show was Saturday the 30th of November — thus endeth a 30 year radio career.
Before I leave the medical thing — I was pleased to be able to donate a kidney to a woman four or five years ago and perhaps set a bit of an example to others because I didn’t really think it was such a big deal. The medical authorities are keen to encourage this sort of thing, knowing it can be a difficult decision for most people.
But, after the operation, the follow-up consisted of a single visit to make sure the stitches were OK and since then nothing. I would have thought I would have had some sort of follow-up from the renal experts at Auckland Hospital to make sure I was still functioning. I feel no different, but when I was checked for the nose operation I was told that there is concern over my kidney function and that it’s only just functioning within acceptable bounds.
I’m not so sure now that I am as enthusiastic about encouraging others to donate knowing that there’s no serious follow-up and that can lead to the situation I now find myself in.
Enjoying the Winston Peters free zone? Nothing's been heard of The Winston since election night and life's different. When I was a full time radio talkshow host I got to know him quite well and he was a likeable, charming bloke. He had huge talent and it was impossible not to admire what he'd made of himself when you see the house he was born in, in the remote Far North. He could have been a National Prime Minister if he'd been a team player, but he wasn't and so he was cast into the political wilderness as a maverick.
I liked him as a person, but his political games were foolish and he was simply too aggressive, controlling and pin-pricking in the finish. He really needed to lighten up.
I wanted to see the back of him because he was too destructive and negative, but in the last six months I began to feel sorry for him. The whole Owen Glenn/funding drama was payback time from the media and his political enemies — including the silly little man from Epsom with his fake tan, yellow sports coat and grim, steely-jawed look.
I seldom read Metro magazine, but Keri brought me one in to read in hospital. They had a Dubious Awards section where they also put the boot into Peters saying come the election he and his party were dog-tucker.
New Zealand first got more votes across the country that Rodney Hyde's ACT party.
Winston Peters was a hugely wasted talent.
Wednesday 26th November
PUTTING BRAIN IN GEAR
I don't know who it was who said — put your brain in gear before saying anything, but the same applies to writing.
I've just read this morning's Herald newspaper and the lead story on the front page really has me wondering what's happened to actually "thinking" about something before committing it to paper.
The newspaper tells me that our shiny new Prime Minister is going into battle to try and get the British government to change its mind on increasing the departure tax on long-distance flights that will cost New Zealand tourism millions of dollars.
To be honest, it's not only the Herald that's telling me this, but radio and television as well, but the newspaper has the luxury of more time to get things right.
At first you'd think this was another example of nasty old Mother England overlooking the close links that we think we still have with the Old Country.
At present the tax is $113. It will be increased to $240 over the next two years. That's an increase of $127.
Now yet get about three New Zealand dollars for every English quid — so the increase will be about £42. Given that a pint of good English beer costs about $4 (rubbish is cheaper), this means travellers to New Zealand will, over the next two years, be faced with an increase in departure tax equivalent to having ten beers!
Is that really going to mean thousands of potential English travellers, wanting to get as far away from the UK as it's possible to get on Planet Earth without leaving the place, will cancel their travel plans and cost New Zealand tourism millions of dollars?
The Herald — and why does an Auckland-based newspaper call itself The New Zealand Herald — quotes Tim Cossar, Chief Executive of the NZ Tourism Association as saying the move could cost many millions of dollars.
Another alarmist storm in a teacup based on New Zealand's insecurities, written by journalists without much of a brain to think with.
FOOT IN MOUTH NOTE
In my last column I bagged the Air New Zealand cabin crew on the 777 that took me to Los Angeles recently and praised the attitude of the border security staff at LAX. But those were temporary aberrations.
On the way home, the airport people were back to their rude old surly selves — I wasn't sure if they didn't want to be at work, or were sad at seeing me go. But they were unsmiling, unhelpful and communicated in grunts as they always have. Must have struck them on a particularly good day on the way in.
By contrast, the Air New Zealand cabin crew on the way back were all cheers and smiles — maybe this was their last shift before taking a break because they were definitely better than the airline's usual pretty-average standard. The food was rubbish, the wine was good and the movie selection impressive.
Nothing compares with the standard of service you get in American hotels. We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton on Marina Del Rey where Paris Hilton was nearby making some sort of movie-ette apparently, but I never saw her.
Posh hotels in Europe and the UK provide high levels of service, but it's stiff and awkward, in the US they can't do enough for you.
Air New Zealand could do with sending their cabin crews to the Ritz Carlton at Marina del Rey for training and get some consistency.
Couple of quick tips — if you are looking for an opportunity to pamper yourself, try Tree Tops near Rotorua. It's expensive and exclusive but it really is an exquisite experience that you ought to treat yourself at least once in your lifetime.
And finally, I've just spent a couple of days in Whakatane researching a destination story for NZ TODAY. I visited White Island — I've been many places in New Zealand and experienced many things but this is the best. Amazing experience to walk around the crater of a live volcano. At the other end of the scale there is the Uruwera/Whirinaki/Tuhoe experience. Whakatane the town is small, pretty unspoiled, but it has two of the greatest, and most unexploited tourist attractions in New Zealand. Experience it now before the developers spoil it.