Southerly by David Haywood

The Baubles of Valetudinarianism

I believe I heard the first episode of Hard News ever to be broadcast. I was still a spotty teenager at the time, sitting in my girlfriend's Ford Anglia as we drove through Grey Lynn. Hard News was so astonishing that -- in order to listen properly -- we stopped the car in Williamson Avenue. Although we both followed the news, this was the first time we had heard anything presented in our particular frame of reference. Serious news analysis was usually for other people. People who were older, more sedate, and far more conservative. Hard News was serious analysis for people like us. We were both spellbound. As my girlfriend put it: "I never knew Bill Ralston was so clever."

Later on, we discovered that Bill Ralston was only as clever as we had always suspected. The intelligent bloke on Hard News was actually a journalist called Russell Brown. By this time Hard News had become an important part of my information diet, and when I moved to Christchurch the first thing I did with my new email address was to subscribe to the Hard News transcript.

I read Hard News almost every week until September 20th 2002 -- a tragic day for New Zealand's mediaphiles -- when it was broadcast on bFM for the last time. It seemed like the end of an era. But then, miraculously, much like a religious figure nearly 2,000 years previously (but without the sandals), Hard News rose from the dead, and was resurrected onto a new website called Public Address. Hallelujah! And, not only that, but Russell Brown was joined by a bunch of other clever people. And you could read their entertaining and intelligent opinions nearly every day.

It seemed like mediaphile paradise. And for a while it was. But then it happened. Russell Brown mentioned his gout. Gout? It was the beginning of a terrible downward spiral. Russell soon became a man obsessed. He could write about nothing but gout. Page after page. Post after post. Gout, gout, gout. People emailed him: "Russell, enough with the gout already." But it made no difference. And then David Slack started. He had leg pains. He was accident prone. The ACC wouldn't give their real names when they replied to his letters. He had a sore toe.

Soon Damian Christie was moaning about his ear ache. Keith Ng started complaining about a sore shoulder. Tze Ming Mok embarked on a long discourse about her bruised fist. Fiona Rae described her spinal injuries in minute detail. And Jolisa Gracewood harped on about her so-called 'women’s problems'. Public Address began to read like a series of entries from the Merck Manual.

Something had to be done, and (eventually) I felt compelled to do it. I wrote to Russell Brown: "Russell -- please -- this has got to stop. I may not be clever. I may not be witty. I may not have anything worthwhile to say. But, by God, I've got my health. Give me my own web-log, and let's get Public Address back on the straight and narrow. Let's work together to overcome this whole valetudinarian thing."

So here I am. And for years I've been wanting to use the word valetudinarian in a proper sentence. And now I have. It seems like a good start.

Another good start might be to make use of those pointless management courses that have been foisted upon me over the years. I have learnt that one of the most important rules -- perhaps the only really important rule -- of management is that you should begin every new enterprise with a mission statement. This should preferably be quite unachievable, and should be prominently displayed so that all your customers can laugh at it.

My favourite mission statement is at a local sawdust merchant who intends not only to become "the world's leading supplier of sawdust" but also to "delight our customers." Now there's a real mission for you. I'd put money on the fact that there has never been anyone in the history of human civilization who has ever been delighted by purchasing a pile of sawdust. And, if you ask me, there never will be. I think my own mission statement might aim a little lower. In fact, I have been toying with the following one-word mission statement beloved of teenagers everywhere: 'Whatever'. This seems to suit the random and -- thus far -- aimless direction of my life.

However, given the medical basis for my appearance on Public Address, it is probably fitting that physical health should be given prominent mention. Although, to be entirely honest with you, my health is not perfect. I have a bad back. So I suppose I would describe myself as stoic rather than healthy. In fact, on the days when my back is really painful, I sometimes think that my life is like the story of the Spartan boy who stole a fox. Except without the fox. Or, of course, any stealing. But alas -- even without the fox or stealing -- this is far too long for a mission statement.

So I have decided that the most appropriate mission statement for this weblog is the following: "I shall not be seeking the baubles of valetudinarianism."

That is my bottom line.