Random Play by Graham Reid

Look back and wonder

Inevitably at this time you tend to get a bit reflective and look back at the year that has just gone. I started doing this recently and was surprised how much of 2005 I sort of missed.

It started back at last year’s tsunami. I was on holiday and didn’t know about it for a couple of days. This year I spent a lot of time travelling -- three weeks in the States, two months in Europe, and more recently 10 days bobbing around the Pacific -- and so missed great swags of News And Really Important Stuff.

We were in the restaurants and cafes of Paris, Berlin and so on while the New Zealand post-election farce was being played out and returned home to find Winston Peters was, laughably, our new Foreign Minister.

During that period we missed the second Bali bombing and the earthquakes in Pakistan, and didn’t hear of them until well after the events. Now we’ve come home to hear about race riots in Australia.

I have to be honest, I didn’t really miss -- in the sense of wish I knew more about -- the unravelling of TVNZ, the David Benson-Pope saga and other such headline grabbing events. (We’d previously missed Dover Samuels' piddling effort which was the first thing someone told me in the car home from the airport.)

But -- and this is an odd confession -- I also didn’t really miss all the Major Events either.

A few weeks ago we were in the small village of St Maximin in Provence. We were staying with my friend Amanda at her beautiful home and realised how much Serious News was passing us by. And we didn’t care.

Amanda said she rarely read a newspaper or followed all those world-shaping events which seem to preoccupy us on a daily basis. And I wondered if that, and not the cheap but palatable local wines, is why she is always so cheery.

An unrelenting diet of bad news tends to make people grumpy, cynical and/or depressed.

Sometimes when we’ve been away I’ve checked the Herald website and the main items often seem to be murders. Last weekend when we got home I pulled the paper out of the letterbox and was confronted with the news that Auckland was about to explode and that bird flu was on its way.

Those were the headlines anyway, I didn’t bother reading the (probably) alarmist articles which followed.

I suppose, being the news addict that I usually am, I will start reading the papers, watching tele-news and tuning in to Linda Clark again. But the extended holidays from world events -- and just meeting a few of the world’s citizens in our travels who seemed universally generous, kind, amusing and good natured -- was kind of salutary.

Despite the disasters, wars and the peevish behaviour of politicians, life just seems to go on for most people. Of course we didn’t travel through war zones or flood ravaged countries -- but we need to remind ourselves that those places, which while fairly commanding news attention, actually contain a tiny minority of the world‘s people.

This is not to say we should have happy-clappy news -- good news-only papers have been conspicuously short-lived -- but that every now and again we could remember that most people are more healthy, happier and live longer than their ancestors of just a century ago. In so many ways life is actually improving, despite what grumpy old buggers try to tell us.

Just a thought.

Oh, and many thanks to those dozens of people who have responded to these "random play" columns. The whole Alt,Nation series seems to have been widely enjoyed so I’m thinking that could a running gag next year -- and I expect we have now hammered the credit card so much that next year we‘ll be staying at home, under canvas as I mentioned previously.

I appreciate the condolences sent when I wrote recently about our leaky building.

As I write this there are two men with sledgehammers and crowbars beating the bejesus out of the wall and patio just beyond the window where I am sitting. Right about now I think I need another lazy cruise on the silent ocean.

And thank you also to those who have bought my book Postcards From Elsewhere and been kind enough to write. Glad you enjoyed it. It’s a modest affair but ideal for the beach, if I may put in a plug.

Finally though, the second best book I read this year was Generation Kill by Evan Wright.

Rolling Stone writer Wright joined a Marine Corp unit when the Americans marched to Baghdad in 2003 and turned in this eye-opening account of the craziness, heroism, ineptness and compelling personalities of the players in this small corner of that on-going war.

More than a battle diary it is, as the title suggests, a probing look at the generation of soldiers whose war training began with video games as teenagers. And it is an insight into an incompetent military machine and how the seeds of the current situation were unwittingly sown as the guys with guns crashed through small towns.

It is powerful stuff, and some incidents provided the raw material for the tele-series Over There which largely went unnoticed when it screened on Sky. It’s being repeated in February I believe and is certainly worth a look, especially the second episode when the troops are manning a road block and cars are coming at them. It loads in the moral questions, as does Generation Kill.

So that’s it from me, typically contradicting myself by enjoying a holiday from bad news and recommending a book which is a dark ride.

Better quit while I’m ahead.

Have a safe and enjoyable break if you are getting one. The builders tell me they are working through. The joke’s on me.

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, au revoir.