Saturday, October 12, 2019

Jim Flynn: a hero of free speech

Further to my recent post (October 9) on academic freedom of speech, Stuff's Your Weekend has an excellent piece by Yvonne van Dongen on Professor Jim Flynn's refusal to kowtow to leftist authoritarianism:
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/116443386/the-complicated-issue-of-hate

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

News flash! Academics defend freedom of speech


This was by far the most important thing in my Dominion Post – in fact anywhere in the New Zealand media – this morning:


It’s a resounding defence of free speech, and the heartening thing is that it comes from university academics.

Less heartening is the fact that the six signatories to this article are a courageous minority. Their championing of Emeritus Professor Jim Flynn stands in stark contrast to the chillingly censorious open letter signed last week by Auckland University academic staff demanding that the university silence an attention-seeking fringe group accused of promoting "white supremacy" - a phrase which appears to encompass everything from Nazism to simple pride in the values and achievements of Western civilisation.

Ask yourself: who presents the greater threat – an anonymous group (for all we know, it might just be one person) putting up stickers around the Auckland campus, or the pompous high priests of academia and their herd-like acolytes who seek to outlaw any opinions they hold to be “unsafe”? George Orwell, who knew a thing or two about suppression of free speech, would have been proud to have coined that particular term.

It's now obvious even to blind Freddy that academic freedom and the contest of ideas, two of the key values underpinning liberal democracy, are under sustained and determined attack. Ask yourself: who are the bigots here? Who seeks to impose a new style of totalitarianism? Who's calling for the enforcement of rules prohibiting secular heresy? Ironically, it’s not the supposed white supremacists. They’re not trying to silence anyone.

Another irony is that Flynn, the eminent Otago University professor who now finds himself at the centre of a censorship controversy, has impeccable leftist credentials. Sadly that wasn’t enough to protect him from leftist totalitarianism that has taken hold to the extent that Flynn's British publisher got cold feet over his latest book, which promotes – irony of ironies – free speech on university campuses.

Meanwhile, the Free Speech Coalition is calling for donations so that it can appeal against a High Court decision last week which effectively gives risk-averse municipal functionaries and their political masters carte blanche to deny the use of public venues to any speaker whose views might cause political offence or trigger protests. It’s a frightening decision which must not be allowed to stand. You can donate here: https://www.freespeechcoalition.nz/donate?utm_campaign=fsc_funding_for_appeal&utm_medium=email&utm_source=freespeech

Monday, October 7, 2019

In praise of the Remutaka Hill

(First published in The Dominion Post and on Stuff.co.nz, October 3.)

There’s a man named Graeme Farr who’s standing for the mayoralty of all three Wairarapa councils. He’s using his candidacy primarily to promote a road tunnel under the Remutaka Hill.

I can’t see a tunnel happening, because the economics don’t stack up. But I have a sneaking suspicion my wife voted for Farr, contravening my strict instructions. She’s Polish, and genetically programmed to disregard orders.

No doubt there are others living in the Wairarapa who, like her, don’t much care for that steep, winding road over the hill, and many more who believe that a tunnel would unlock (to use a vogueish word) the region’s untapped potential.

But as for me, I want a Remutaka road tunnel about as much as I want a third nostril.

I like the hill. I like the sense of geographical separation from Wellington and the Hutt Valley. When I go to Wellington, it’s always a pleasure to get into the car at the end of the day and point it in the direction of home.

I especially relish the drive back over the hill, which has the almost mystical sensation of passing into a different realm. There’s a point about halfway down the northern side where the Wairarapa valley suddenly comes into glorious view.

It’s always bathed in golden sunshine, no matter how foul the weather on the Wellington side. (Okay, perhaps not always, in fact very rarely at nighttime, but often enough to make me feel smug.)

John Hayes, a former Wairarapa MP, once tried to whip up public interest in a tunnel and approached me for support in the tragic misapprehension that, as a columnist, I might wield some influence.

I politely told him to bugger off. I didn’t want the Wairarapa being invaded by the masses then, and I still don’t. No offence to my friends in Wellington, but I love the fact that there’s a big, formidable barrier to deter interlopers.

I’ve seen what happened to the Kapiti Coast when it morphed from being a pleasant and sleepy seaside retreat to a choked, claustrophobic extension of suburbia.

We lived at Raumati Beach in the 1980s and I knew the rot was setting in when the council insisted on laying a footpath along our street, which had previously had the charming feel of a country lane. We sold up just before they built a housing subdivision in the paddock where our kids used to play.

Since then I’ve watched Kapiti’s infrastructure vainly struggling to catch up with its burgeoning population. It can only get worse when Transmission Gully kicks in.

There’s a lot of growth here in the Wairarapa too, but there's room for it, and it’s manageable.

New subdivisions are going up all over the place and the traffic has intensified to the point where, in what passes for rush hour, you can get stuck at a roundabout for … oh, maybe 20 seconds.

But the Wairarapa still has the distinction of having no traffic lights. How long would that remain the case with traffic pouring through a tunnel?

We can tolerate weekend visitors, with their convoys of motorbikes and classic cars streaming across the hill in search of wide blue skies, open roads, rural pubs and charming rustic scenery, just as long as they head back home at the end of the day.  

We’re okay too with those refined, affluent types from Wadestown and Kelburn who buy weekend retreats in Greytown and then decide it’s so nice that they can do without their house in Wellington. That’s the sort of place Greytown is.  But who knows what impact a tunnel might have on the town where I live?

One of Masterton’s charms is that it’s still a traditional farming town. I like the fact that when you drive into town, you run a gauntlet of agriculture machinery dealers.

I love hearing topdressing planes flying out at first light from Hood aerodrome and returning home at dusk, and I like the tractors and stock trucks that constantly rumble past our place.

I like the friendly and obliging shopkeepers and tradies, and I like the fact that when I ring a plumber he’s pulling up outside before I hang up the phone. (Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration too.)

I don’t want any of this put at risk by intensified urbanisation and more people, which would be the inevitable result of a tunnel. So my message to Graeme Farr is the same as it was to John Hayes.

On the other hand, if Farr promised to lobby for a high-speed bypass around Carterton, which is surely the world's most boring town to drive through (though only by a slim margin over Dannevirke), he might get my vote in 2022. A flyover would be better still.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

The rise of militant veganism

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and on Stuff.co.nz, Oct 2.)

My wife and I don’t always agree about things; just choosing a paint colour for the bathroom can take months. But we celebrated a moment of instant accord over breakfast recently.

In front of us was a newspaper account of the black-clad vegan protesters who formed a line in front of the meat shelves in an Auckland supermarket. Shoppers who were prevented from buying meat reportedly lost their patience, lashing out at the protesters.

My wife’s reaction was the same as mine. We agreed that if we’d been there, we probably would have been among those doing the lashing out.

I respect the right of vegans to renounce meat, and I’m certainly not insensitive to concerns about inhumane treatment of animals. But protesters are inviting a backlash when they arrogantly assert the right to obstruct people going about their lawful business.

This has nothing to do with the respective merits of carnivorous and vegetarian diets. It’s a matter of respecting people’s right in a free society to make their own choices within the law.

The right to protest is an essential item in the democratic toolkit, and one I’ve taken advantage of myself. But I’ve never assumed that my beliefs were so sacred that they took precedence over the rights of others – which is why, although I marched against the 1981 Springbok tour,  I avoided taking part in protests that tried to prevent fans from getting to matches. It’s also why I get mad when I see activists trying to bar people from attending political events they disapprove of.

Unfortunately, the thing about zealots is that they become so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that it overrides all other considerations. Thus we are now witnessing the rise of militant veganism, as was evident in the meat section of the Countdown supermarket in the Westfield St Lukes Mall.

Food has been well and truly politicised, and with that has come a rising level of strident militancy – hysteria, almost – and denunciation of anyone who doesn’t fall into line with the “meat is murder” agenda.

It’s all part of the so-called culture war – the clash between traditional liberal values (and I mean genuinely liberal, as in tolerant of people who differ) and those promoted by the radical and increasingly assertive authoritarian Left.

A significant recent development was the convergence of two of the great secular theologies of our age: militant veganism and climate change alarmism. The two came together in fist-pumping union nine months ago with the publication of a report purporting to link climate change with supposedly unhealthy global food production systems.

There you have it: two moral panics rolled into one – pure gold for the ideologues who endlessly lecture us on the supposed failings of capitalism and Western civilisation.

Published in the British medical journal The Lancet, the report – written by a team headed by our own Professor Boyd Swinburn of Auckland University, a high priest of wowserism – claimed that food production systems, controlled and manipulated by profit-crazed global business interests, are not only driving climate change but propelling us toward early graves.

How this squares with statistics showing steady worldwide improvements in life expectancy wasn’t explained, but hey – why nitpick?

Swinburn and his accomplices even came up with a fancy new term for this looming apocalypse. They called it a Global Syndemic, or a “synergy of epidemics” interacting with each other to produce “complex sequelae” – a bit of Latin always looks impressive – which ultimately threaten the planet.

There should be no mistaking the purpose of such reports. They are aimed at frightening people into meekly accepting adopting radical changes imposed by those who insist they know what's best for us.

Neither should there be any doubt about the real target of the reformist zealots. They may not say it in so many words, but their goal is to dismantle international capitalism. That’s the agenda that underpins almost all the moral crusades currently being waged in Western societies.

I recently watched the New Zealand-made documentary film Capital in the 21st Century, which was inspired by a best-selling book written by the left-wing French economist Thomas Piketty.

The film is a very slick piece of propaganda. It uses every trick in the film-maker’s repertoire to convey the impression that greedy capitalism is responsible for pretty much everything that’s wrong in the world.

Of course capitalism is imperfect. It would be dishonest to pretend otherwise. But like most works of propaganda, Capital in the 21st Century is significant for what it chooses to leave out – such as the inconvenient fact that the world’s freest, most open and most prosperous societies all have capitalist economies. 

And here's the other thing: the film doesn't say what better system might be installed in its place. Either the crusaders against capitalism don't know, or they're not telling us. Either way, they're not to be trusted.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

I missed one

Exhibit C (see previous post): Greta Thunberg and the attendant media circus.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Peak craziness reconsidered


I wrote a column a few weeks ago suggesting we had reached peak craziness. Alas, I was wrong.

Exhibit A: One morning last week I heard the actress Robyn Malcolm assert on Morning Report that the role of Gandalf in the proposed Amazon TV production of The Lord of the Rings should be played by a woman. And not just any type of woman, but specifically by a kuia (or as she put it tautologically, “an old Maori kuia”).

Ian McKellen did a great job playing Gandalf in the movie adaptations, Malcolm conceded, “but we don’t need another old guy with a long white beard”.

Was it a joke? You’d like to think so, but I fear not.

Assuming, then, that Malcolm was serious, we can anticipate a few obvious problems with her idea. First, J R R Tolkien very specifically envisaged an old guy with a long white beard when he created the character of Gandalf. And while the author may be long dead, he’s entitled to respect for the integrity of his story and characters. He certainly deserves better than to have them hijacked to satisfy a passing ideological fashion. 

You’d think that of all people, someone like Malcolm – who, after all, depends for her livelihood on the ability of writers to create compelling characters for actors to play – would grasp that. Evidently not.

There’s also the tricky matter of explaining how an old Maori woman would come to be living in Middle Earth – a fantasy realm, admittedly, but one very clearly rooted in European lore and culture.

That leads us to the most obvious difficulty of all – namely, that no company is going to spend hundreds of millions employing Malcolm’s acting mates on a TV series that no one will want to watch, which would surely be the fate of a Lord of the Rings that lacked one of its defining characters.

If someone wants to create a TV series with a kuia as its central figure, well and good. But fans of Lord of the Rings (I’m not one, incidentally, but that’s neither here nor there) love it as it is, not as some virtue-signalling thespian imagines it should be.

In any case, why stop at Gandalf? Literature is riddled with figures who perpetuate repressive patriarchal models. Why not cast a black woman – better still, a lesbian refugee from somewhere like Sudan – in the role of Sherlock Holmes? And given that Daniel Craig has apparently tired of the role, what’s to stop the producers of the next James Bond movie from casting a trans woman – perhaps in a wheelchair, just to reinforce the sense of inclusiveness – as agent 007?

Once you adopt the idea that the purpose of films and other forms of entertainment is to advance an ideological agenda, the possibilities are limitless. But we know from history what happens when literature and the arts are co-opted to enforce someone’s idea of correct thinking. I mean, how many great works came out of Stalin’s Soviet Union? I remember a Peter Sellers skit that made a joke about a mythical Soviet film called The Seven Brave Tractor Drivers, which more or less sums up what happens when art becomes a vehicle for ideological propaganda.

I now turn to Exhibit B in Peak Craziness Reconsidered. For this we need look no further than Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who has fallen victim to the pernicious concept of presentism – the insistence that past actions and statements be interpreted and judged according to contemporary values.

In 2001, Trudeau – then aged 29, and employed as a schoolteacher – attended an Arabian Nights-themed fancy dress party. He wore robes and a turban and had his face, neck and hands darkened. Someone mischievously (or more likely maliciously) supplied Time magazine with a photo showing Trudeau with other attendees, thereby triggering an explosion of moral outrage which almost matches the one that erupted when Austrian president Kurt Waldheim was exposed as a former intelligence officer in the German army during the Second World War.

The comparison with Waldheim is not inappropriate. Amid the vindictive fervour generated by neo-Marxist witch-hunters, wearing brownface – a term most of us had never heard until the Trudeau affair, but which is presumably only a degree less offensive than blackface – is on a par with war crimes. And no one is safe, not even a politician who has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his sympathy for fashionable causes.

It’s impossible to ignore the irony that the very people Trudeau has tried to ingratiate himself with are the ones who have turned on him. So it’s true: the revolution really does devour its own children. The furore should serve as a lesson that even the most impeccably woke politicians aren’t immune from malevolent trolls.

Obviously wanting to get in ahead of any other career-destroying disclosures about his reprehensible past, Trudeau then confessed that while at high school, he had worn blackface while singing the Jamaican folk song Day-O. A closet racist, then, beyond all doubt; just one step removed from the Ku Klux Klan. And to think this was the prime minister who had pretended to welcome Syrian refugees. Gasp! Was there any limit to his deceit and hypocrisy?

Trudeau completed his own humiliation with an apology that took grovelling to a new level. But in the feverish orgy of judgmentalism that followed Time’s story, a few important points have been overlooked.

The first is that people’s actions should surely be judged by their intent and their consequences – and I mean real consequences, not the ones that exist only in febrile, highly politicised minds. Did Trudeau intend to hurt, mock, exploit or demean dark-skinned people? It was a fancy-dress party, for heaven’s sake. Was any harm done by colouring his face and wearing Arab robes?  Only to the overheated sensibilities of those who go through life looking for opportunities to take offence. Dressing as Aladdin hardly ranks as a crime against humanity.

Second, who in their past life hasn’t done something they now wish they hadn’t? Who wants to be held accountable for things they did decades ago, before their judgment had fully matured? I certainly wouldn’t. But Trudeau's self-righteous tormentors make no allowance for human frailties.

Moral perspectives change. Demanding that people’s past behaviour conform to contemporary codes laid down by a shrill, Pharisaical minority of activists raises the bar impossibly high. I doubt that many public figures could pass that test, and I imagine many lie awake at night fretting that their past will catch up with them.

Who knows? That Christmas pageant in your first year at school, when you were assigned to play Balthazar – you know, the one of the Three Wise Men who was traditionally depicted as black; somewhere there might still be an incriminating photo. Better track it down fast and put it through the shredder.  

Finally, what is it about wearing blackface that makes it so offensive that anyone guilty of it in their past is condemned as a white supremacist? It’s only four decades since New Zealanders without a racist fibre in their bodies sat down in front of the television on Sunday nights to enjoy The Black and White Minstrel Show.

Sure, it wouldn't happen now. But did it occur to anyone then that it was racist? Was the show intended to be degrading or insulting to people of colour? That should be the yardstick by which we now judge it. Again, intent is crucial.

Granted, in hindsight the use of blackface resulted in a grotesque caricature of black people that is now seen as offensive. Woolly wigs were worn and mouths and eyes were exaggeratedly big and white. It also evoked memories of the Jim Crow era, a time when black Americans suffered appalling institutionalised discrimination.

For those reasons it not surprisingly fell out of favour in the latter part of the 20th century. But somewhere along the line, it seems to have been forgotten that performing in blackface was often an acknowledgment that its white exponents owed a debt to genuine African-American minstrels of an earlier time. It was one manifestation of the racial and cultural cross-fertilisation – whites borrowing from blacks and vice-versa – that left a permanent imprint on American music.

The fact that blackface, however innocently used, has since come to be regarded as a vile assertion of white supremacy and a potential destroyer of political careers, even for someone with Trudeau’s liberal credentials, shows how devastatingly effective the march of identity politics has been – and how brittle the political fabric of western democracy has become.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Obituary: Alister Taylor

(The Dominion Post asked me to write this obituary. It was published on September 21.)

RUPERT ALISTER HALLS TAYLOR
Publisher
Born Blenheim September 21 1943
Died Russell September 9 2019

Writer and historian Tony Simpson used to joke that when Alister Taylor died, he would have him stuffed and mounted in his living room as a conversation piece.

He never got his wish. Taylor was cremated this week after dying at his home in the Bay of Islands, aged 75. But the radical publisher’s tumultuous life assured him of conversation-piece status regardless. When book people from a certain era get together, says Simpson, “we swap Alister Taylor anecdotes.”

Charming and generous but notoriously casual about paying his debts, Taylor was far-sighted and a risk-taker at a time when the publishing business was timid and conservative. He gave several prominent writers their first break and they remained grateful, even though some never saw any money.

His books ranged from the flippant (The Muldoon Annual Joke Book) to volumes of poetry by Sam Hunt and Alistair Campbell and lavishly illustrated works showcasing the paintings of C F Goldie and Dame Robin White and the photographs of Marti Friedlander and Robin Morrison.

Taylor was working for the venerable New Zealand publishing house of A H & A W Reed in 1971 when he tried to interest his employers in an English translation of The Little Red Book for School Pupils, better known simply as The Little Red Schoolbook, a subversive work by two Danish teachers whose frank advice for school children ranged across such taboo subjects as sex and drugs.

When the devoutly Christian publishers not surprisingly declined, as they also did when Taylor urged them to publish the then radical student leader Tim Shadbolt’s Bullshit and Jellybeans, Taylor published the books himself.

The two books captured the spirit of the emerging counter-culture and served as a test of the liberality of New Zealand’s censorship laws. They also installed Taylor as the enfant terrible of the publishing business and launched him on a career in which he managed to earn respect as a publisher of serious, quality books and a patron of emerging writers while simultaneously leaving a trail of bad debts and despairing creditors.

He was bankrupted twice over the course of a turbulent career in which his propensity for spending money was matched by his disregard for financial obligations. Wellington lawyer Hugh Rennie QC, who knew Taylor from university days and acted for some of his unpaid authors, says that “Alister existed in a parallel universe where financial compliance was irrelevant to his objectives”.

The son of a travelling salesman, Taylor grew up in Blenheim and Palmerston North. Writer and former ACT MP Deborah Coddington, who had three children with him during their 25 years together, says he had a happy upbringing, though not a privileged one, with three sisters and an older brother.

At Victoria University in the mid-1960s, he was part of a lively circle of student leaders who would go on to make their marks in the media, the arts, the law and politics. A stylish dresser, instantly recogniseable with his thick, shaggy dark hair and glasses, Taylor was a combative figure in student politics. Even then, he was caught up in controversy over irregularities in Students’ Association finances.

He was also, at that time, a rising young star in the National Party. Simpson remembers him attending a university seminar with his then girlfriend Helen Sutch, daughter of the high-profile economist and public servant Bill Sutch, and constantly heckling left-wing speakers. But Taylor parted company with National over New Zealand’s participation in the Vietnam War. Coddington says he was physically manhandled from the stage at a party conference when he tried to give a speech opposing the war.

A Stuff story about his death said he once chained himself to a lamppost during an anti-Vietnam protest, but Coddington says that wasn't quite right. He was handcuffed to the pole by the police while they rounded up his fellow offenders.

Exhibiting the vision, boundless self-confidence and entrepreneurial flair that would mark his publishing career, Taylor went on to organise the Peace, Power and Politics in Asia conference, a landmark event of 1968. The speakers included such international luminaries as the Irish writer and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien and the Indian diplomat and former defence minister, V K Krishna Menon.

By then Taylor was working for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation as a producer of the radio current affairs programme Checkpoint. The NZBC, which was kept under tight government control, took a dim view of his political activities and fired him.

Broadcasting’s loss was publishing’s gain. The publication three years later of The Little Red Schoolbook and Shadbolt’s Bullshit and Jellybeans (the latter a combination of autobiography and political manifesto) was emblematic of a period when post-war establishment values were coming under siege from the baby boomer generation.

Simpson’s The Sugarbag Years, an acclaimed oral history of New Zealanders’ experiences in the Great Depression, was another success story. Simpson had known Taylor in their university days and turned to him when he couldn’t interest mainstream publishers in the project.

“He snapped up the idea straight away. That was the thing about Alister: he had a creative and an imaginative mind.” Published in 1974, The Sugarbag Years became a best-seller and effectively kick-started Simpson’s career.

Taylor also launched the career of historian Michael King, publishing King’s first book, Moko: Tattooing in the 20th Century, in 1972. Simpson recalls King phoning him and plaintively inquiring whether he had been paid any royalties for The Sugarbag Years, because King hadn’t received any for his book.

Even then, Taylor had a reputation as an unreliable payer. “Like a lot of creative and imaginative people, he was a flawed personality in a lot of ways. He regarded other people’s money as his money.”

Taylor published another of Simpson’s books, Te Riri Pakeha, about the alienation of Maori land, in 1990. The author ended up taking Taylor to court for unpaid royalties and won the case. When he still didn’t get his money, he had Taylor declared bankrupt.

In the course of those legal proceedings, Simpson obtained a list of Taylor’s creditors, which he describes as one of the world’s most astonishing documents. It included every wine merchant within a 160km radius. “He lived extremely well and he did it all on credit.

“He and I didn’t see one another for many years after that, but I’ve always been very grateful to him because in a very real way I think I owe him my writing career. And I’m not the only one – there was Michael King too.

“Alister was very much of that era, and at the centre of what was going on.”

An idealist on one level, but without a conscience when it came to financial affairs? “Oh yes, he was a total rogue. But a genial rogue who did some great things.”

In the 1970s, Taylor moved from Wellington, where he owned the historic Rita Angus Cottage in Thorndon, to Martinborough, where he planted a vineyard on an 80-hectare property originally owned by the Martin family who founded the town.

Coddington, who joined him there in 1978 with her young daughter Briar, says it was an example of his remarkable prescience – his ability to foresee trends and get in ahead of them. No one else was growing grapes in Martinborough at the time; that would come several years later. But he bought the property on instinct because the climate reminded him of Marlborough, then in the midst of a winemaking boom.

Taylor also saw potential in Waiura, the old Martin family homestead on the property, which was virtually derelict and used to store hay. “He had the foresight to see the value in preserving old buildings,” says Coddington. “Now everyone runs around doing it.”

The couple’s three children – Rupert, Valentine and Imogen – were born during the Martinborough years. It was a time when Waiura became synonymous with extravagant hospitality, which Taylor sometimes used to placate angry creditors.

“Alister was a wonderful cook and a fantastic host,” Coddington recalls. “Authors would come over from Wellington saying ‘This time I’m going to get my royalties’, and Alister would get out a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild or whatever and whip up a quiche and a persimmon steamed pudding with whipped cream and they would leave wined and dined and still with no money.”

But the vineyard was an expensive failure, sucking up all the money Taylor had made from his publishing ventures. Rabbits and possums destroyed his vines and Taylor ended up in a messy dispute with Shadbolt, then a concrete contractor, over the $100,000 wine cellar Shadbolt had built for him.

In 1983, the property was knocked down in a mortgagee sale (it subsequently became Te Kairanga Vineyard, which is now thriving under American ownership) and Taylor and Coddington moved to the Bay of Islands.

In Russell, they ran a café. Taylor did the cooking and Coddington waited on tables. Coddington later acquired The Gables restaurant on the Russell waterfront but by 1990 the couple had moved to Auckland, where Coddington got a job writing for North & South.

Taylor remained active in the books business, publishing – among other things – the New Zealand Who’s Who Aotearoa, in competition with a long-established book published by Reeds. It still rankles with retired journalist Max Lambert, who edited the Reeds version, that Taylor’s book masqueraded as the “official” Who’s Who, trading on its rival’s reputation.

“In my book he was a shyster,” Lambert says of Taylor. “He did some pretty underhand things, which is a pity because he had some good ideas. He did a brilliant book on horses.”

Three books on horses, in fact, starting in 1980 with Notable New Zealand Thoroughbreds, by Waikanae writer and lifelong racing fan Mary Mountier.  Did she end up out of pocket? “Oh God yes, everyone did,” she says.

Yet Mountier has no regrets. The limited-edition book was printed to exacting standards in Japan and Taylor spared no expense, sending her to Japan to supervise production and later to Australia and Britain to research similar books there.  “That was part of the problem. He was very generous, but he kept on spending even when the cheques started to bounce.”

Mountier says Taylor had a knack for finding writers who had a passion for particular subjects and who were willing to put in inordinate amounts of time and effort. But she’s proud of the books and grateful for the experience of having met people at the top echelons of the international racing scene. And she’s especially proud that all three are in the Queen’s library.

Taylor and Coddington parted in 2003, the year after Coddington was elected to Parliament. Even then Taylor was embroiled in legal problems – this time in New South Wales, where the Commissioner for Fair Trading took action against him over the alleged late and non-delivery of books.

Despite the split, Coddington retained “a huge amount of affection” for him and says his children loved him too.

She told Stuff the day before the funeral: “The kids were asking me what he was like when I met him. He was the man. He was the man.”

An essential trait of his personality, she said, was that he was anti-authority – “an anarchist”. He never seemed troubled by the mayhem he left in his wake and threats of legal action would just “wash over him”.

Now married to lawyer Colin Carruthers QC and living in Martinborough again, Coddington was co-owner of some of Taylor’s companies and admits a measure of responsibility for his bad behaviour toward people to whom he owed money. “Of course I do – guilt and responsibility, but I can’t turn back the clock.”

What Taylor did to people was reprehensible, she says – “all those poor people who signed contracts that were never honoured.

“I know of people, authors, who went to their letterboxes having been told there was a cheque in the mail, and there was never a cheque in the mail. You can’t do that to people.”

In his last years, Taylor lived on his own in Russell. He was found dead at home after a suspected heart attack.