Monday, 25 February 2013

Secret New Government Initiative Announced Unintentionally

While recently attending yet another function held by the government designed to pointlessly spend taxpayers’ money, I found myself unexpectedly in deep conversation with the Minister for the Generation of Revenue. After a few glasses of the Ch√Ęteau Margaux, the Minister let slip that the government is poised to implement an initiative more cunning than the time it tried to sell Antarctica to a passing American billionaire.

'This plan,' gabbled the Minister, 'can't fail. Even we won't be able to stuff this one up!'
Indeed, so excited was the Minister there were disgusting flecks of spittle at the corners of his mouth which I was hoping he might wipe off but which he instead just played at with his tongue.
As I was no doubt aware, the Minister chortled on, Australia had recently passed a law requiring all cigarettes to be sold in plain packages.
'If the Australians are stupid enough to be first up against the tobacco companies, it's hardly our fault, is it?' he chirped. 'Still, good on them for taking it on, and at the same time opening the door to us to make a whole lot of money!'
'What's that,' I said, 'a whole lot of money? Howso?'
'Well,' the Minister giggled, 'we've just secretly created a company that will serve as a front for the New Zealand government—no one will ever know that we actually own it!—and can you guess what this company is going to produce, on the cheap, in China?'
'Houses?' I suggested, thinking it would be a real vote-winner, although I couldn't see its immediate connection to cigarettes.
'Don't be stupid,' yelped the Minister, 'who needs cheap housing? No, no, this company will produce'—and here he paused for what I think was supposed to be dramatic effect, but became instead a chance for him to belch—'lots and lots and lots of bling bling cigarette cases!'
'Cigarette cases?' I cried, 'but who can live in a cigarette case?'
An early prototype of the cigarette cases to be produced by the NZ government
'Fool, they're not for living in, they're for people to express their individuality, to say, this is me, I'm incredibly interesting and clever and creative and have lots of money and whatever! Do you think people are going to stop smoking because cigarettes come in plain brown packages? Of course not! But don't  you also think they might like to be able to choose their very own cigarette cases—they'll even be able to personalise them if they want—and they can even have one for every occasion—it can't fail!'
By this time the Minister was more or less screaming at me in his breathless excitement and it was all I could do to avoid the flying bits of voulevant hurtling from his mouth.
'Do you mean to tell me,' I said, 'that the New Zealand government's contribution to reducing smoking will be to sell personalised cigarette cases so that consumers will be able to enjoy the sweet and soothing deliciousness of their favourite tobacco while also being able to express their individuality and personal style?'

'Yes!' thundered the Minister, 'brilliant, isn't it!'

'Rather!', I said. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Arsenal and Cologne Cathedral

He is the studious, professorial manager of the English Premier League. His cold, steely eyes are forever weighing, calculating, analysing—nothing is missed and everything is gathered for dissection by his penetrating intellect. But he is not merely a scholar of the beautiful game, for as he paces the touchline, occasionally throwing and kicking unfortunate bottles of water, we can see, too, the frenzied passion that storms within his breast. He is Arsene Wenger and he is building something, something great, something magnificent, something that will stand forever. 'I am building something,' he recently commented to no one in particular. 'It will be great.'

And so what is this mysterious thing he is building, this thing that will be so magnificent? It is none other than an Arsenal team that will win. Something. And when it is unveiled, the waters will be stilled, no dogs will bark, no birds will sing, and the stars will shine in the daylight hours.

Doubters there are who say that the scholar's head is too far gone into the clouds, but at a recent news conference he made clear just how grounded are both his perfectly well-heeled shoes. Before a select gathering of journalists, he revealed the true magesty of his vision. 'The edifice I am constructing'—his voice was hushed as if in reverence for the awesome thing of which he spoke—'will be greater than the Tower of London, it will be greater than the Empire State Building, it will be greater even than the Cologne Cathedral.' A collective intake of breath from the assembled journalists—greater even than the cathedral at Cologne!

This historic moment, it is true, was almost tarnished when, from the back of the room, a whiny little voice piped up: 'But didn't the cathedral take over 700 years to build, Arsene?' A fearsome silence! Minutes ticked audibly by as Wenger looked over the heads of those before him, gazing into a magical future only he could see: 'Precisely,' he replied. From the back of the room came that same, whining voice: 'I don't mean to be difficult, but won't you be dead by then, Arsene?' Wenger's expression did not change, only a slight twitch just below the left eye betrayed the contempt he had for such a question: 'Yes, it is possible. Death, after all, excuses no one'—at this point his face suddenly began to look like that of the Buddha as he spoke of life's verities—'but I do not think I will be dead just then, for I feel I have a few good years left in me yet.' 'Seven hundred good years, Arsene?' 'Precisely.'

In Arsene do the Arsenal fans trust, and they have shown remarkable faith in his wisdom and his promise to build a team like nothing before seen. While other teams have seen managers come and then go, Arsene has been there steadily at Arsenal's helm, his presence as predictable as the rising of the sun, the coming in of the tide, or Arsenal's fifth (or third or fourth or sixth) place finish in the premiership. His vision is immense, his wisdom boundless, and in just 700 years he will reveal the greatest football team ever assembled. I, for one, can't wait.
Arsene's Arsenal - it really is great!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Simple Habits of the Tide

Rose earlier than usual. At least, I think it was earlier. We don't bother with clocks here. But the sun seemed to be just setting out on its diurnal travels, so it seems a reasonable assumption. Went across to the house and put water on for coffee. Made the fire, although took longer than would normally be the case as I kept stopping to read old news in the papers I was screwing up. Not quite the same as reading breaking news, but seemingly alluring all the same - it has a charm of its own, as if it is more a fable than something that actually happened to someone somewhere. Got the fire going, consuming all the old news in the process - so easy is it to erase catastrophe, suffering, disaster - then made my coffee and sat out on the verandah. Read Sherlock Holmes and contemplated the mudflats, deserted now by the tide. It goes out, it comes in, goes out again, for all eternity, or at least until an end of days of some sort interrupts the flow. Contemplating the simple habits of the tide for too long can set a man's mind adrift, and he can't be sure of getting it back any time soon. 

The tides goes in, it goes out. Then in again. Wow.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Mother and Baby Beauty Contests

All right-thinking people were no doubt filled with lashings of rage and indignation at the sight recently of four-year-old girls parading themselves across a catwalk, attired only in bikinis. Each seemingly an aspiring Lolita, they pouted and posed and did all that any self-respecting siren would do to win the hearts of the judges, the pride of the adoring parents, and the esteem of those less attractive than themselves. Yes, I am sure, rage and indignation swelled many a breast, but perhaps this is one of those instances when our concern for the wellbeing of our children leads us only into error and confusion. So, let me, for a moment, suggest another way of thinking about this.

An early instance of a 'mother & baby' beauty contest
Why not start such beauty contests even earlier? The sooner the girls learn the true nature of this world into which they have been so rudely thrust, the better for all concerned. Indeed, I am persuaded that the competitions should begin with mothers and babies, although the babies should be at least six weeks old (not out of any concern for their welfare, mind you, but because all newborns, regardless of their sex, look like nothing so much as wizened old men for whom life has gone dreadfully wrong, and all the encomia paid by friends and family to new parents notwithstanding, most of us would rather look upon them when they have become more accustomed to being seen in public). And so mother and baby could perambulate across the catwalk and be judged according to their style and poise and whether or not either one of them screams (and if so, for how long, at what pitch, and at how many decibels). Actually, while we're at it, and in the interests of gender equity, boys too might be allowed to compete, although they would be demonstrating not their beauty, of course, but their manly strength. They could strut and flex—or try to flex—their as yet unformed muscles, too modest yet to be seen, each a little Hercules ready to take the world upon his shoulders.

In this way might children be better prepared for the rough and tumble of life, in a world quite indifferent to our better notions of fairness and our beliefs in the right of everyone to go gently through their days. In a world, as I say, not only profoundly indifferent to fairness but in which beauty and strength are assets richly rewarded with friendship, preferment, wealth and contentment, why pretend otherwise?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Endless Government

Showing the kind of leadership which has marked his time at the helm, calmly steering the ship of state through the many Scyllas and Charybdises which have beset us of late, John Key this week announced his support for a four-year parliamentary term. This, I think, is an ingenious idea which ought to have been implemented eons ago. Given that the raison d'etre of our governments of all political hues is largely to do nothing, it makes little sense to keep chopping and changing from one party to the other, when they are both equally as good at doing nothing. We might as well extend the term over which each party can do nothing, thereby saving us considerable sums of money otherwise wasted in pointless elections, held merely to determine which party will be in charge of doing nothing for the allotted time. It will also spare us the pain we suffer every third year of the current cycle when each party hoists itself onto its collective feet to announce various initiatives that won't be implemented should they be elected.

Frankly, I get fairly giddy at just the thought of how much each party could not be doing over the course of four, rather than three, years. To put it in a manner beloved of economists, thereby making it look as if it might have a passing relationship to the actual world we live in, if x represents the amount of nothing that can be done in three years, then x + (1 x y) must equal the amount that might not be done in four years. It's astoundingly clever and the Prime Minister is to be heartily commended for his stance. Of course, there is an insistent logic underlying this which won't be ignored: surely, the very best thing to do would be to scrap elections altogether, and simply have a permanent government doing more or less nothing for the foreseeable future. Imagine the savings!

The Prime Minister finds all manner of fun things to do to while away the time.

A word, meanwhile, in passing on something the current government has done recently, which is to oversee an impressive reduction in the unemployment figures. Admittedly, this has happened, not because lots of people have found work, but because lots of people have given up looking for work, and so they no longer count as 'job-seekers'. Now, in the interests of keeping up morale, I believe the government should see here an opportunity and should actively promote to those currently unemployed the hopelessness of their situation, thereby encouraging them to join the ranks of those who have given up looking for work, in turn bringing about a further stellar reduction in the unemployment figures. On the back of these figures, New Zealand will then be able to stand proud amongst the developed nations of the world, and even those who are starving and homeless will at least be able to feel good about their contribution to making New Zealand look just that little bit better!