Because I have been doing a bit of flying lately I've managed to catch up on some viewing. Going to and from Samoa for a large family celebration meant I got to see a whole swag of episodes of The Thick Of It (unexpurgated, thank you Air New Zealand).
For those of you who don't know this profanity-filled series – inventive profanity though, not your weasily Phil Goff potty-mouth “bullshit” – it is set inside the corridors of a British political party (Labour, on the slide) and a department which is micro-managed by the minder Malcolm Tucker (played by Peter Capaldi), “the all-swearing eye” as one character calls him.
Tucker is great character: ruthless, shameless, permanently angry, running on adrenalin and exasperation – and creating memorable one-liners along the way. “I'll be with you in two shakes of a crying baby”.
It is raw, hilarious, politically incorrect (if you object to the crying baby comment) and highly watchable, even at 30,000 feet.
It sprung the equally funny – and not a little scary – movie In the Loop.
I mention this because we landed back here just as Chris Carter went into his meltdown: He'd been rumbled, denied it (hardly a man of his convictions then?) and then came out swinging (not in Tua-way more like a spoilt child – again) and then . . .
Hard to believe this man – who has found the past few weeks stressful – wanted to be Minister of Foreign Affairs. Did he think it would just be gadding about in business class, nice dinners with important people and decent wine?
Maybe he used Labour's former Minister of Wine and Cheese, Jonathan Hunt as his role model?
Well, you know all this anyway – but I couldn't help but think what poor shape Labour is in today (internally) if all this can be going on . . . and it drives Mr Goff to say “bullshit”.
They need a Malcolm Tucker in there to sort things out maybe?
Every party does right now.
What also happened just as we got back was Hone Harawira's version of that famous British newspaper headline in the mid 60s: “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”
If his comments about not letting his kids date a Pakeha weren't so laughable they would be . . . well, laughable.
After Mr Harawira's previous gaffes/profanity-ridden e-mails and so on he was sent home for a while. It occurred to me then, and I still believe this, he needed to see more of the world, not less.
Sending him to a place where his narrow worldview might be confirmed rather than challenged (as seems to have happened, given these recent comments) seems counterproductive.
This one just bewilders me in the 21st century – and especially so because of what we had just been to in Samoa, a family gathering of descendants of a couple who married there 140 years ago.
He – Montgomery Betham, age 38 – was a Englishman from a small town my wife and I made a visit to last year, and she – the magnificently named Catherine Anna Silveira Nobre de Graca aka Anna Silva, age 17 – was of Portuguese/Samoan parents.
They had nine children . . . and their children had children . . . and so on.
We were there for many days of church services (I heard more prayers in five days than in the previous decade), meeting distant cousins of my wife and her family (I was the outsider) and eating in marathon stretches.
It was wonderful and after the final church service we all lined up and had our photo taken, all 350 of us from Germany, the States, Australia, New Zealand and of course both Samoas. Some people had Chinese forebears, one Samoan woman from San Antonio was married to a Mexican, my wife had married me of a Scottish family, one of her sisters married a man born in Ireland . . .
So goes the way of the world.
Of course we would be naïve to think of the planet as moving towards one great melting pot: the United States – not to mention hermetically sealed North Korea – has given the lie to that quaint notion.
People do like to stick with like – witness the Kiwis who flock to London only to do a bad haka on Waitangi Day and sing along with Jordan Luck, Fat Freddy's and Dave Dobbyn when they come to town.
They didn't call Earls Court “Kangaroo Court” for nothing, either.
But to be proscriptive about who you want your kids to take up with?
So we came back to a country where no one wants to admit the economy is decline (Paul Holmes right on the money here), the education system is struggling, unemployment is up . . . and where the best a former Alliance MP can come up with is opening a brothel for women for a reality television show?
Weirdness abounds in this wee place. You gotta laugh, really.
But once again, by being away, I was reminded there is a complex world beyond our borders where cultures collide, mix, mingle, find common ground and points of difference . . .
The more I see of it, the less I know what are certainties.
What I do know is that I still like waking up in a strange country – even if it is sometimes my own.
Word Up: Just a reminder to those of you who were interested in The Creative Hub, the writing centre in premises at the Maritime Museum in Auckland which the novelist/writing tutor John Cranna and I have established.
Our first courses – his in creative fiction, mine in travel writing (and everyone wants to know the secret of that game, huh?) – start the first week in September and enrollments are being taken now.
Details of The Creative Hub and the guests we have scheduled – and which has on the advisory panel the high respected writers Owen Marshall, Tessa Duder and Paula Morris, and our very own host here, the illustrious Russell Brown – are all here. Look forward to hearing from you.
You doubtless have stories to tell, and we want to help.
And finally: Elsewhere is now reconfigured for easier navigation: I have created separate sections for reggae, world music and jazz for those of you who specifically like those musics – but under New Music From Elsewhere you will still find around a dozen new albums reviewed every week. This week Cyndi Lauper goes to Memphis and gets the blues, obscure Fifties rock'n'roll, jazz and not, Sarah McLachlan and much more . . .
And at From the Vaults I am posting new and different (strange, rare, weird) music every week, from Kurt Vonnegut to John Cale, George Formby to Tom Waits, Lesley Gore to Dean Martin.
This week at From the Vaults it is strange covers – today actor Sebastian Cabot reading Dylan (Bob not Thomas).
DVDs and books considered, articles, overviews and interviews also. Elsewhere is becoming increasingly . . . elsewhere?
Another stranger on our shore.