Southerly by David Haywood

112

Høstens Vemod

A few years ago, I was chatting with another father at a children’s playground in Trondheim, when the subject of høstens vemod came up.

Høstens vemod is a very important Norwegian concept,” he told me. “Perhaps the most important concept in our entire national psychology. Believe me: to understand høstens vemod is to understand Norway.”

He watched as my children circumvented the safety barriers of the guaranteed safe Swedish-designed playground and climbed precariously onto the roof of the slide tower.

“The literal translation of høstens vemod might be something like ‘autumn sadness’,” he continued. “Put simplistically, this is the sadness that you feel in autumn after the summer has passed. There is, of course, nothing wrong with autumn in Norway, it is perhaps our most pleasant season. But after autumn comes the oppressive horror of winter. Therefore we cannot enjoy the pleasures of autumn because of the unpleasant future event that lies ahead.”

“This, of course, can be extended to Norwegian life in general. How can you enjoy eating an icecream, for example, when you know that death is inevitable. Dying in a cancer ward, perhaps? Your own death ahead of you like an inexorable freight train about to crush you—that is the worst thing. This is why we Norwegians lack confidence; why we can’t properly enjoy our vast sovereign wealth funds. Even Frida Lyngstad experiences høstens vemod. Did you know she is Norwegian? People don’t warm to her because of her melancholic nature; she is the most depressing member of ABBA.

A long silence followed these words. Neither of us felt like talking. The sun had faded behind a cloud; the playground chilled as a damp gust of wind blew in from the sea. Perhaps this was the first hint of autumn, I thought. Why did I suddenly feel sad?

It is no understatement to say that this conversation has been a profound revelation to me. The høstens vemod of Norway finally put into words an emotion that I’ve suffered all my life. Perhaps not so much an obsession with the unavoidability of death, but certainly a Eeyore-ish inability to fully embrace happiness—purely as a consequence of the knowledge that, inevitably, all happiness must pass. It may even explain why my enjoyment of ABBA is only 25 per cent that of most other people.

Nevertheless—who knows how—I somehow manage to struggle on. For the last couple of years my little daughter, Polly, has been a great help with the building work to which fate has sentenced me. At first, I admit, her presence was a bit frustrating. But then she became rather useful: handing me tools, doing simple carpentry work, negotiating improved trade discounts with my suppliers. Eventually she became indispensable. In a few months, however, she will be going to school, and already I am overflowing with høstens vemod at the thought of her departure.

It is a fascinating thing, with your children, to be able to see another person’s life—a person who is often wholly different to yourself—in its full unedited format. Polly has a will of iron. Whereas her older brother had to be cajoled and persuaded (and, in some cases, threatened) through every stage of childhood development, Polly has been grimly determined to overcome every obstacle in her path. Toilet training was over in a flash; she demanded a grown-up girl’s bed before the thought had even occurred to her parents; afternoon naps were forsaken at the earliest possible opportunity.

It is perhaps only in her difficulty with bedtime that she resembles her brother. For several years Polly was unable to fall asleep except via the mechanism of an extended pushchair ride. There is a great deal of entertainment in the vicinity of our house: cows, sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, alpacas, a church, and a café where occasional icecreams are eaten. While we trundled along, Polly felt obliged to provide a travelogue of the various sights. Her disembodied voice would drift up from beneath the pushchair’s hood.

A street-light flickering into illumination could provoke an interesting observation: “I am a lighthouse. Whenever you push this button, my light goes on. And whenever my light goes on I lay an egg. These are all my eggs. Most of them are for eating, but we have to look after this one because it has a baby lighthouse in it...”

The combination of church and café and a passing police vehicle could provide culinary inspiration: “Welcome to my cafe. Would you like some steeple pancakes? They are made from church steeples. Don't worry, the church said they didn't mind. And the police gave me some of their special potion that you sprinkle over things to make them good to eat. Your baby could have a bottle? We have real breast milk. It came from my mother who died when I was a baby and all her breast milk fell out. We use the special police potion to make it taste nice and fresh...”

As the kilometres rolled by (a nine kilometre bedtime ride was not unexceptional) then Polly’s travelogue would gradually begin to fade. Long periods of silence would ensue. As I finally began to hope that our nightly journey was over, her voice would re-emerge sleepily, often with a particularly recondite observation: “Gerry Brownlee came along and tried to knock down our chicken house. Then the chickens all got free so they came and pecked his eyes out. He couldn't see so he stumbled around and around. Then he banged into his own house because he couldn't see it. And he knocked his own house down. Ha ha.”

This last item touches upon the main source of unhappiness in Polly’s life: the government. I suppose that when the government has razed your entire former neighbourhood then you are inclined to view them in a less-than-charitable light. The blind on the window next to Polly’s bedroom must always be pulled tight at night “to prevent the government getting in”; a trip to Christchurch was ruined when a shop clerk mentioned that John Key was visiting the city, and Polly hysterically demanded to be taken home in order to protect our house from government demolition.

A year or so ago, Polly several times refused to leave the house at all. “I have to stay home in case Gerry Brownlee or John Key come with diggers,” she protested tearfully. I attempted to counter her heartfelt arguments by explaining that our house was now under the jurisdiction of the district council, and therefore Gerry Brownlee or John Key had no power to make demolition orders (I admit to glossing over certain aspects of parliamentary sovereignty and the Public Works Act 1981). Polly countered my counter-argument by demanding to be taken to the district council in person for reassurances.

Our local councillor was thus proven to be a man of great flexibility in terms of job description. When Polly was ushered into his presence he immediately launched into a detailed explanation of the powers of his council in preventing Gerry Brownlee or John Key from demolishing houses. I think it was the man-traps baited with hamburgers that finally convinced Polly. We were both highly impressed by our local democracy in action.

Although Polly’s steely negotiation skills have been the source of much parental difficulty, they have certainly come in handy when visiting building and engineering suppliers. Employees in such establishments are psychologically unprepared for strong-willed customers wearing tiaras and fairy dresses. It is but a small step from praising Polly’s drawings to acceding to requests for the “junior builder’s trade discount”. Indeed I’ve had to ban Polly’s preferred farewell (“Don’t send my dad a bloody bill, okay?”) from fear that a sales clerk might actually follow her instructions and lose their job.

Grandmotherly sales clerks present an unusual problem in their tendency to praise Polly for her beauty. “Aren’t you beautiful?” is a common greeting (to which Polly would reply with devastating honesty: “I know.”). This necessitated long speeches from me about the inconsequence of exterior beauty in comparison with the vital importance of interior beauty. The devastating logic of my speeches has now prompted Polly to offer the compromise response, “I’m beautiful on the inside, too,” (sometimes ungraciously adding: “I have a brother called Bob who’s beautiful as well—but he’s only beautiful on the inside.”) A slight parental victory, I suppose.

The other awkward issue with grandmotherly sales clerks is their tendency to request too much information about Polly’s art works, which frequently produces distress in those unfamiliar with the macabre.

Grandmotherly sales clerk: What a beautiful picture of a flower!

Polly: It’s a poisonous flower.

Grandmotherly sales clerk: [in a tone of slightly mystified disappointment] Oh...

Mind you, this is exceedingly mild in comparison with some other of Polly’s artistic works. I have mixed emotions with regard to an overheard conversation about the well-known painting Daddy Driving Lawnmower, With Two Flowers.

Admiring adult: What’s this lovely picture about, Polly?

Polly: This flower and this baby flower have just been to a ball, then after the ball they got nice and clean. But now it is night time and they are asleep snuggling up to each other, but now this big one is being struck by lightning, there, see? And now it is going to die. And the baby one is dying too. The flowers are us, actually. They turn into us when they die. Over here is a baby squirrel with only one arm that we are looking after. It is going to die from the thunderstorm too. And this is the handy helper. He's watching but not doing anything. And this is Daddy, driving the lawn mower. He is driving it in the middle of the night because it has been raining and the grass keeps growing. There is more thunder coming and he is going to be dying too.

Above: Daddy Driving Lawnmower, With Two Flowers.

I feel a certain amount of guilt that my building work has deprived Polly of much of the attention that was lavished on her brother—there have been very few nature walks or rainy-day trips to museums in her pre-school years. But I suppose she has been educated in other ways. Polly recently built a stile of her own design between our property and the neighbours, and I had an embarrassing moment (half way through a lecture on how her planned structure could be improved) when I suddenly realized that her design was much better than the one that I was suggesting. It seemed a good sign that some sort of useful learning had taken place.

Polly attends the local kindergarten several days per week. I’m astonished by how much I miss her presence when she’s at lessons: the quirky observations, the surrealistic conversations, the fascinating details of her future plans. “When I go to school I shall build a beautiful gypsy caravan and live in our coppice. Then when I’m older—and if you’re not dead—I’ll live in the big house, and you and Mummy can live in my caravan. And then I’ll have children, and I’ll be the grown-up, and I’ll look after you!” It’s rather sad to think of Polly going to all-day school, and of my lonely builder’s future without her.

The head teacher at Polly’s kindergarten is an immigrant from Norway, and I felt that she—of all people—would be culturally capable of understanding my melancholy at Polly’s approaching departure to primary school. “Of course, your people have a word for this anticipatory sadness,” I added. “Høstens vemod.”

Høstens vemod?” replied the head teacher. “Really? I’ve never heard of that. I mean the actual words make sense in Norwegian, but I’ve never heard of it as any kind of cultural thing.”

She sent a text message to her brother in Norway. Her brother is a high school teacher who is known for his in-depth understanding of Norwegian culture and society. “He’ll certainly be able to clear up the mystery of høstens vemod for me,” she said confidently.

A few minutes later she received a reply. “Well no,” she said. “Apparently he’s never heard of it either.”

I now suspect that I’ve been a victim of the wry Norwegian sense of humour. My cultural informant at the children’s playground was perhaps indulging in a spot of Nordic hyperbole. All I can say is that it’s a shame to be suffering from a psychological phenomenon that doesn’t officially exist (though, if it doesn’t exist, then why does it make me so sad?). Perhaps there’s a word for it in Finnish.

Above: Polly running to school on her first day.

77

I Fell Down

The last time that I seriously put pen to paper (digitally speaking) was in September 2014, shortly before my grandfather died.

My grandfather had a good death. Until a fortnight or so before the end, he was in remarkably fine health: living in his own home and still driving his car all over Auckland. My aunt, a former chorister, was holding his hand and singing to him as he died. His funeral was on his 98th birthday. As I type I can hear him saying that a funeral isn't really what he wanted as a birthday present.

I'd always had a good relationship with my grandfather, but over the last few years we'd drawn even closer together. He had written two books; I had (inadvertently) become a builder. He would email me for advice on his manuscripts. I would phone him to draw upon expertise from his long career as a joiner and carpenter. A typical question from me would take the form: “I've figured out a way to do X, but I'm sure there must be a simpler method—is there a clever trick that I don't know?” There usually was.

My grandfather's absence has left a surprisingly large hole in my life; and there have been many occasions when I've found myself wishing that I could talk with him again. I certainly had a lot more to learn from him. Not only about joinery, cabinet-making, carpentry, and design, but also about the psychology of a long project on a limited budget.

My previous engineering jobs had been conducted more-or-less in series; a new project was started only after the previous one finished. But my ongoing earthquake relocation/repairs/restoration have been conducted massively in parallel: extensive landscaping, building a garage and sheds, repairing and repainting the house exterior and roof, and restoration of every single indoor room—all at the same time.

I find myself rushing from crisis to crisis, often working inefficiently as a consequence, occasionally making a rod for my own back by not dealing with a crisis in time. A recent example is the repair of a complicated bay window that I only managed to get finished and under-coated a few days before cold weather struck. In all probability the undercoat will lift over winter and I'll have to scrape it off and re-prep in spring—a depressing waste of effort.

Thrown into this mix is my son Bob's ongoing difficulties with the educational system, which has resulted in home-schooling him one day per week. We call this our Engineering Day—the theory being that Bob learns arithmetic, basic physics, problem-solving, and design via a series of small engineering projects (admittedly there might not be any actual educational evidence to support this as a theory of learning). In the evenings, a video is uploaded to his YouTube channel to prove to school that he has genuinely been doing something all day (a typical example can be found here).

I certainly don't begrudge Engineering Day with my son in any way, but the preparation and execution time further slows my building work—and, of course, makes any of my proper jobs (such as writing) even more difficult.

Undoubtedly, however, the most stressful and upsetting event of the past 18 months has been my father's near death. It seemed that we had scarcely buried my grandfather when my father became seriously ill with a bacterial infection that he contracted via a minor scratch. I know that he won't want me to dwell on any of this—but as a consequence of the bacteria infecting his heart valves, he had a stroke and then full heart-valve replacement surgery. He was left apparently paralysed (even down to his eyelids) for a frightening number of days; in a semi-coma for 24 days and under serious medical intervention in the ICU for 38 days.

Those who have been through a similar experience won't need to be told how shocking it is to see someone you love undergo an experience like this. Witnessing my father apparently paralysed and completely dependent on life-support machinery is one of the most harrowing sights of my life. As someone who finds conversation with even non-comatose people rather difficult, my attempts at cheerful and reassuring dialogue with my comatose father weren't a notable success (my brother likened it to someone saying something exceedingly stupid whilst leaving an answer-phone message, who then keeps on talking in the desperate hope of making what he's said seem somehow less stupid, during which time he manages to say a number of even stupider and more ridiculous things).

Astonishingly and thankfully—and despite the probably damaging effects of my attempted conversation—my father has managed to pull through his illness. Mentally he is completely unaffected by his ordeal; bodily he's made extraordinary progress. He has regained virtually full physical functionality, but his endurance is still very low and he must rest often. No doubt this will mend in time. He (and we his family) have had the nearest of near misses.

Perhaps this is all something of a dog-ate-my-homework-ish explanation as to why I haven't written for so long. At any rate, I should probably take this opportunity to apologize to regular readers of Southerly (if there are any left) for the very long silence. I feel that the February earthquake literally and metaphorically knocked me off my feet—and that somehow, unfortunately, I've never managed the metaphorical getting back up again.

I'm attempting to think of ways that I can provide material for this blog in my post-earthquake circumstances, but nothing is particularly coming to mind. I don't think that prose is the format for documenting my current life as a builder (my sole attempt was deathly dull); and regardless of its suitability (or not) as a format I fall asleep as soon as I sit down of an evening these days.

Something will no doubt come to mind eventually. In the next few weeks I do hope to post a few pieces of writing that have been nearly finished for some time. In the meantime I'd like to thank you all for your patience.

22

This Week in Parliament: 2 February 2015 - 6 February 2015

Public Address presents our weekly round-up of the important events in parliament.

KEY’S NEW ‘BLACK OPS’ APPOINTEE SCORES EARLY SUCCESS

A week that began with government panic over Jaipur-Literary-Festival-gate has ended with Prime Minister John Key once more firmly in control—thanks to the appointment of a new ‘black ops’ spin doctor.

The mysteriously mononymous appointee, known only as ‘Sooty’, has already stamped his mark on this week’s press conferences. The visibly distraught and sleep-deprived John Key of the previous week, stammering that he was “not relaxed or comfortable” about Eleanor Catton’s Jaipur comments, has now been transformed into a confident and reinvigorated prime minister, breezily dismissing Catton’s opinions as “predictable”.

Red Squad

“I believe Eleanor Catton only made her criticisms because she is intelligent and well-educated,” says John Key in a damning accusation. “Ordinary New Zealand voters don’t need me to spell out what this amounts to—but it’s a word that looks a bit like ‘treacle’.”

During a hard-hitting interview with Mike Hoskings, the prime minister defended his government’s policies against the back-drop of history. “I’m amazed at some people’s ‘convenient’ memory loss. Has Ms. Catton somehow forgotten that a few years ago this country was at war—a war to defend our way of life? It was called the Springbok Tour. And the beatniks lost. I think most New Zealanders would say that Ms. Catton and her fellow beatniks should either ‘put up’ or ‘shut up’.”

Creepy

Despite the early success of the prime minister’s new spin-doctor, there have already been accusations that ‘Sooty’ is wielding undue influence.

“During his first cabinet meeting he literally perched on John Key’s shoulder,” says one minister, who wanted to be identified only as ‘Nikki’. “And he never spoke to us—just whispered things into the prime minister's ear. It was creepy.”

Moral Obligation

Cabinet insiders claim that ‘Sooty’ is behind the prime minister’s new-found view that New Zealand has a “moral obligation to set an international example” and join the battle against ISIS.

“Once the concept of a ‘moral obligation to set an international example’ was explained to us then we all became really enthusiastic,” says one minister, who wanted to be identified only as ‘Steven’.

“Chris Finlayson suggested that we should declare a trade embargo against Saudi Arabia on the basis of their human rights abuses, and Nick Smith thought that we should implement a descending economy-wide cap on carbon dioxide emissions—he even offered to have his scrotum shaved as a sort of curtain-raiser.”

“But then Sooty whispered into the prime minster’s ear, and John said: ‘Sooty tells me that we must have a flag referendum’. We all felt really sad and let down.”

I Knew The Real ‘Sooty’, Says Former Co-Star.

But what is actually known about the background of ‘Sooty’? A CV obtained under the Official Information Act reveals that ‘Sooty’ was born in 1952, and was once a successful television “family entertainer”. His career peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, when—along with fellow celebrities Rolf Harris and Sir Jimmy Savile—he charmed audiences throughout the British Commonwealth.

“Sooty was impossible to understand,” says his former co-star ‘Soo’, who worked with him for nearly four decades. “I don’t mean in the sense of his weltanschauung or anything—it’s just that he’s so softly-spoken. I could never make out a word he said.”

Rommel

But Minister of Racing and uncircumcized former farmer, Nathan Guy, claims that he got to know the reclusive spin doctor “as much as anyone can” during the exhaustive interview process—and describes him as “cut”.

“In former times, Britain and her allies were required to fight Rommel in the desert,” says the MP for Ōtaki. “And there’s no doubt that sand can be a terrible irritant. But we’re hardly likely to have a sandstorm inside The Beehive are we? I simply don’t think it’s necessary—even for a bear.”

No Special Treatment for Luvvies

Despite ‘Sooty’ having an entertainment background, the government says that he will “absolutely not” be giving preferential treatment to his former show-business chums.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, points out that—until this week—children’s entertainers ‘Bungle’ and ‘Zippy’ were among CERA’s most highly-paid executives. “But they have now been told that their services are no longer required.”

“Sooty explained that ‘Bungle’ does not fit the corporate image that we wish to project at CERA,” says Brownlee. “Or, at least, Sooty whispered it to the prime minister, and then the prime minister conveyed the message to me. At any rate, I took immediate action.”

Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

“The problem with Zippy is that, well, what sort of a creature is he, exactly?” says Brownlee. “Is he a hippo? He can’t be. George is a hippo. The last thing we want to do at CERA is to project an image that says: we don’t know what we are. So out goes Zippy as well.”

A press release issued by CERA confirmed that two redundancies had been enacted late Friday afternoon.

“We wish to extend our heartfelt appreciation for the invaluable services that these dedicated and hard-working employees have provided over the last five years,” said Sarah, a spokesperson for CERA. “Taxpayers can be assured that the redundancy process was fully supervised by the SPCA, and that the remains have been respectfully interred in a nearby farmer’s offal pit.”

Sooty’s long-time television collaborator, Sweep, declined to be interviewed by This Week In Parliament, explaining via Morse code that his intention to take legal action against Sooty was “well known” and that the matter would shortly be “before the courts”.

39

This Week in Parliament: 26 January 2015 - 30 January 2015

Public Address presents our weekly round-up of the important events in parliament.

NICK SMITH SHAVES SCROTUM FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Affordable housing is predicted to be a major political issue for 2015, but Minister of Housing Nick Smith insists that he is prepared to go the extra mile to help struggling families.

“I was turning over various possibilities in my mind, when it suddenly occurred to me that shaving my testicles might help,” says Dr Smith, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering. “It seemed a bit crazy at first, but it was a lot more sensible than some of my other ideas.”

Ball Boy Wanted

The MP for Nelson admits that it was a difficult subject to broach at the cabinet table.

“I had a very careful and tactful speech prepared, but then at the last minute I became flustered and blurted out, ‘Who wants to shave my balls?’ Luckily none of my cabinet colleagues were at all taken aback, and quite a few of them offered to help.”

Guy Races to Smith’s Aid

Minister of Racing Nathan Guy says he was “first out of the gate” to offer assistance to Dr Smith.

The uncircumcized former farmer explains that long experience with calf castration has given him the perfect set of skills to promote affordable housing. “Helping Nick is the sort of job that would give some weak-minded Labour party types an anxiety attack,” he observes. “But the way I look at it, I can’t do any worse damage than his parents already did when they made the misguided decision to have him circumcized. They’ve absolutely ruined him—it’s mutilation, plain and simple.”

Housing Trust

“Putting your vital organs into another man’s hands is the ultimate expression of trust,” says Dr Smith. “Particularly as Nathan sometimes gets a bit of a weird expression on his face.”

“But it’s really brought us closer together as colleagues. There are moments of awkwardness, of course, but laughter helps. Nathan and I like to say that if you’re not laughing hysterically while shaving another man’s testicles then you’re not doing it properly.”

Nick Smith’s Testicles Made Me Glad Grandma Died

Nathan Guy agrees that there’s been the occasional awkward moment during the daily shaving routine.

“As soon as I get Nick’s ball-bag cradled in my palms, my head fills with terrible thoughts. I don’t know where they come from—I’d never dreamt I’d be the sort of person who would have such bloodthirsty fantasies. Sick, fucked-up shit that I wouldn’t dare tell a living soul about. It actually makes me want to throw up sometimes.”

“I don’t know whether or not God exists, but Nick’s testicles have made me hope that he doesn’t. It would be terrible to think of my grandma in heaven looking down at me and seeing the deranged urges that enter my mind. The shock could very well kill her.”

Ball-Handling Skills

“I don’t believe in playing the blame game,” insists Dr Smith. “But—no pun intended—successive Ministers of Housing have really dropped the ball on the subject of affordability, and I’m afraid that even previous National Party ministers have been almost criminally negligent in addressing this issue.”

“Someone in government finally had to do something to help ordinary New Zealanders, and I’m proud to say that I’ve done it. I like to joke that I’ve really ‘put my balls on the line’ with this policy, but in a very literal sense I actually have.”

Dr Smith says that only time will tell if the policy works. “We’ve had hot weather recently, but if shaving your testicles is a possible way to reduce house prices, then I’m sure Nathan’s and my efforts will eventually bear fruit.”

21

This Week in Parliament (in Recess): 12 January 2015 - 16 January 2015

Public Address presents our weekly round-up of the important events in parliament.

TOTALISATOR UPGRADED WITH VENTURI ORIFICE STEAM TRAP

Despite parliament being in recess, there’s no holiday-making for cabinet rising star Nathan Guy. The uncircumcized former farmer and Minister of Racing is spending his summer break conducting the most major upgrade to the New Zealand totalisator since it was moved to the Baring Head Lighthouse in 1989.

Goodbye Inverted Bucket

“Voters tend to forget just how much hard work is involved in running the country’s totalisator,” says Mr Guy. “On race days, the Minister of Energy and Resources, Simon Bridges, has to rise before dawn to light the boilers and get the totalisator warmed-up for the morning meetings.”

Mr Guy describes the New Zealand totalisator as among the most sophisticated in the world. “It’s a highly complex machine that incorporates three boilers with sight glasses, more than 200 bourdan gauges giving totalisator readouts, as well as numerous critical auxiliary devices such as the theremin.”

“It’s a lot for Simon to keep his eye on while everything warms up,” he explains. “Replacing the pedal-operated inverted bucket steam-trap with a venturi orifice means one less thing to worry about. It just makes economic sense.”

No Trouser MIA

Running the totalisator can be exhausting for the Minister of Energy and Resources, who may shovel as much as 30 tonnes of coal into the boilers on some race days. But Nathan Guy insists that his own role is infinitely more difficult.

“My job as Minister of Racing is arguably the most mentally-challenging of all cabinet positions,” he asserts. “A moment of lapsed concentration while balancing the totalisator and the country’s economy could—quite literally—go down the gurgler. Many of my circumcized colleagues would be focussed on what’s missing in their trousers, but luckily for New Zealand I am in my natural state, and thus I can concentrate my full mental powers on the ‘job’.”

Biofuels: No Thank You!

Despite the totalisator’s hefty carbon footprint, Simon Bridges says there are no plans to switch to politically correct ‘clean’ energy.

“While, in theory, a fuel such as wood pellets could be used via a gasifier to power the totalisator there’s nothing like the smell of coal in the morning,” he explains. “It just makes economic sense.”

Sniff My Fingers

The Minister of Energy and Resources says that even when not working the totalisator he always keeps a lump of coal in his pocket.

“Then when some engineer or scientist starts going on about global warming, I just fondle the coal and surreptitiously sniff my fingers. It really helps me tune them out.”

“It also feels more statesmanlike than putting my fists in my ears and shouting ‘La La La’,” adds Mr Bridges. “Although, to be perfectly honest, I spend a lot of my time doing that as well.”

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: KEY EXONERATED IN CHARLIE HEBDO SHOOTINGS

Prime minister John Key released a statement this afternoon denying all connection to last week’s ‘Charlie Hebdo’ shootings.

“Although no accusations have actually been made, we felt it wise to pre-emptively clear the air,” says duty minister Steven Joyce. “The Prime Minister genuinely was holidaying in Hawaii at the time of the shootings, and he honestly had nothing to do with them.”

“If it transpires that there is a trail of emails linking him to Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, then Mr Key would like to emphasize that these emails were written as part of his normal duties as Member for Helensville, in which he engages in correspondence with all sorts of people. Otherwise the emails were written by his office—rather than the prime minister himself personally—and he was told nothing about them.”

In the press release, the prime minister adopts an apologetic and conciliatory tone, assuring voters that “I really am telling the truth this time” and expressing his confidence that he will be “fully exonerated when the true facts emerge”.