Saturday, April 4, 2020

A personal perspective on the closure of The Listener

It suddenly struck me quite forcefully yesterday that the issue of The Listener containing the programme listings for the week just ended was probably the last one I will ever see. (I say “probably” because there remains a theoretical possibility that someone will revive the magazine, though I’m not holding my breath.)

There may have been one more edition, but if there was, I didn’t see it because the lockdown kicked in and the shop where I normally buy El Listenero was closed.

All the familiar clichés apply here: “end of an era”, “New Zealand institution” and so forth. The Listener has been a significant part of my life. When I was a kid, it was part of a bundle of publications – along with the NZ Weekly News and the British comics Film Fun, Radio Fun and Tiger – that we picked up every Friday afternoon from Hallagan’s bookshop in Ruataniwha St, Waipukurau. (New Zealand being the sort of place it is, Jack and Margaret Hallagan were close family friends and their kids attended the same convent school.)

I didn’t take much notice of the Listener in those days, although I do remember a spat in the correspondence columns between Kathrin du Fresne of Waipukurau (my mother) and C C du Fresne of Mapua, Nelson (my uncle). I don’t recall what the argument was about; probably some moral issue like sex education, censorship or the contraceptive pill. Mum was a devout Catholic and a social conservative while Chris, my father’s younger brother, was a radical leftie. Both were naturally combative, but strangely enough (or maybe not) they got along quite well personally and I like to think they respected each other.

Many years later – in 1978, to be precise – the Listener became a central part of my life when the then editor Tony Reid, who sadly died recently, offered me a job as a staff writer (as the Listener’s hacks were known then). I ended up working there for four years alongside the likes of Tom Scott, Helen Paske, Gordon Campbell, Jane Ussher, Vernon Wright, Karen Jackman, Denis Welch, David Young, Phil Gifford, Sue McTagget, Vincent O’Sullivan (then the books editor) and a young Pamela Stirling, who would become editor for the magazine’s last 16 years.

They were a terrifically talented team, and fun to work with. I produced a few pieces of work that I was proud of but otherwise I can’t say that I distinguished myself. Years later, Stephen Stratford – then a Listener sub-editor, now a respected freelance books editor – wrote of that era: “Months would pass – nay, entire seasons – between articles by Karl du Fresne and Vernon Wright*.” That was an elegant way of saying I wasn’t very productive, or to put it more bluntly, that I was lazy. In my defence, I would argue now that I also suffered from a lack of confidence. I would immerse myself in research but dreaded the moment when I had to sit down and write that elusive first paragraph. I would do anything to postpone it.

The thing about the Listener was that there was no pressure – not on me, anyway, though it was a different story for Tom Scott with his weekly cartoon and political column. I don’t recall ever hearing mention of the word deadline, though that may be a case of self-serving selective memory.

That my low productivity seemed to be tolerated says something about the sort of magazine the Listener was back then. Its high circulation (nearly 400,000 at its peak, a phenomenal figure by today’s standards) was virtually guaranteed by the fact that it had sole rights to publish the entire week’s TV and radio programmes in advance, other publications being restricted to running them one day at a time. “No pressure” could have been the magazine’s motto. It was always chock-full of advertising, but I don’t recall the advertising manager – a lovely, amiable man named George Barrett, who in a past life had been a Blenheim picture theatre manager and who became my go-to guy whenever I needed a loan, which was quite often – ever raising a sweat. He just sat behind his enormous desk and the ads rolled in.

I quit the Listener when it eventually dawned on me that I was temperamentally unsuited to the rhythm of a weekly magazine, which allowed far too much latitude for procrastination. I needed the brutal discipline of a daily deadline, which is why I came to be appointed news editor of the Nelson Evening Mail in 1982 – a move I never regretted. But the Listener re-entered my life decades later, by which time Pamela was editor and I was working as a freelance journalist. Pamela generously put a lot of work my way and for quite some time used my services as an anonymous editorial writer. It was probably no bad thing that the editorials were unsigned, since I imagine that left-leaning Listener readers (that’s almost tautological) would have choked on their carbon-free vegan quiche had they realised that a journalist widely loathed for his supposedly right-wing views had become a cuckoo in their beloved nest.

To my knowledge Pamela has said nothing publicly since the announcement of the Listener’s closure, but I imagine she will have been devastated. She was ferociously committed to the magazine and led it through some turbulent times.  She survived what by all accounts was some pretty vicious staff infighting – the Listener could be a fractious workplace, partly due to the tendency of some of its journalists to treat the magazine as a political platform – and in recent years had to deal with a steadily sinking lid as the owners cut back on staff and resources. I often marvelled that the magazine came out at all, such were the pressures on its editorial staff.

Which brings me to Bauer Media, the company that lowered the boom on the Listener after 80 years as part of New Zealand’s cultural fabric. Bauer’s exit is further evidence that foreign control of New Zealand media is generally ruinous. Australian ownership did grave – some would say irreparable – damage to both our major print media companies and it seems the Germans are no better. Overseas owners have no emotional stake in the country and no long-term commitment to our wellbeing. They don’t understand our culture and ethos and are largely indifferent to New Zealand affairs. They are interested in us only for as long as they can make a profit, and when that ceases, they cut and run. Well, auf Nimmerwiedersehen, Bauer.

*When last heard of, Vernon was still working as a journalist in Zambia.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Random musings on Covid-19

(First published in The Dominion Post and on, April 2.)

The man who edits this page sensibly suggested in an email to columnists last week that readers might appreciate a break from the constant bombardment with comment about Covid-19. But really, what can you do? To use an old expression, it’s the only game in town.

Here, then, are a few random musings to add to the hubbub.

■ The Covid-19 crisis truly merits the adjective “epochal”. Like the two world wars, the 1918 influenza epidemic and the Great Depression, it has the potential to define an era and leave a mark that will endure for decades. The world will look and feel quite different when we eventually come out the other side. We don’t yet know how it will be different; we just know that it will be. Already things feel very different from how they were only two weeks ago, and we have no idea where we will end up. In fact not knowing is the hardest part. It may be a cliché to say we’re in uncharted territory, but there’s a reason why clichés become clichés. It’s because they usually express a truth.

■ On a cosmic level, Covid-19 is a humbling slap-down. It reminds us that we’re not masters of the universe, as we liked to think. For all its immense sophistication and achievement, medical science suddenly looks almost puny against a malignant force of nature. For its part, the global economy has been exposed as being far more fragile than anyone imagined. And note how quickly some countries have rediscovered their nationalistic impulses, retreating into their shells and closing borders. We can only hope this doesn’t translate into the revival of historic rivalries, suspicions and enmities.

■ New Zealand is better placed than most countries to deal with this crisis. We’re an intimate, cohesive society with a strong sense of communal solidarity. We haven’t become so cynical that we can’t still harness the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit that used to keep the populace energised during telethons (remember them?). That’s one reason people were so unhappy about the forced closure of free community papers. These hyper-local papers are the only ones many people see. They are important not only as a means of keeping people informed about local affairs but also for making them feel connected to the wider community, which is never more valuable than at a time when many are feeling anxious and isolated. It was one of the government’s few missteps and the partial backdown announced on Tuesday doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.  

■ Even within my own social sphere, I’m aware of people having to cope with painful personal consequences arising from Covid-19. In one instance, a family lost a husband and father when he died during what was expected to be routine surgery. Hospital visits had been banned, so they never saw him in his final days, and to compound their grief there was no funeral. In another case, a friend who was in the habit of visiting his Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife every day can no longer do so because the rest home where she’s a resident had no option but to go into lockdown. Husband and wife are thus prevented from spending precious daily time together, and no one can say when – or even if – things will return to normal. Sad circumstances such as these will be causing anguish throughout the country.

■ Everyone’s trying hard not to politicise Covid-19, but it needs to be said that so far, Jacinda Ardern and her top-tier team have handled the crisis commendably enough to almost guarantee a second term, should this year’s election go ahead. That “so far” is an important qualifier, though. There’s still a long way to go, and a difficult balance to be struck between decisive government and heavy-handed interference in personal freedoms. Watch this space.

■ What an ironic paradox that at a time when people might feel the need to turn to religion for hope, comfort and reassurance, church doors are closed. A golden marketing opportunity missed, a cynic might say.

■ Hardship can take multiple forms. Many New Zealanders would never dream of patronising McDonald’s or KFC, but for a significant demographic group, fast food is a staple. They’ll be suffering now that it’s denied them. Good, you might say; perhaps the lockdown will break bad eating habits – but that doesn’t necessarily follow. I feel sorry for them.

■ All news media should make a point of regularly highlighting the number of people who have been treated for Covid-19 and recovered. It’s a small thing, but an important reminder that it’s not a death sentence. Many victims experience only mild symptoms and are over it within a few days.

■ We have a large, cheerful-looking teddy bear in our lounge window. Regular readers will know I’m not usually a teddy-bear type of guy, but children passing with their parents on the footpath point and smile when they see him. That can only be a good thing.

A bit more clarity and consistency would be helpful

So David Clark put his mountain bike in his van, drove a couple of kilometres to an MTB track and went for a ride. Where’s the problem, exactly?

I’ll tell you what the problem is. It’s that the public is getting so many mixed and contradictory messages that even the Minister of Health doesn’t seem to know what’s allowed and what’s not.

The government has a problem here. It needs public co-operation and goodwill, and most people are happy to oblige. But it helps if they’re given consistent messages, and it also helps if they can see the logic in what they’re being asked to do.

I have yet to see any explanation, still less a convincing one, as to why it’s unsafe to do what Clark did – i.e., drive to a nearby location, then go for a bike ride, walk or run from there. I can’t see how that’s going to expose more people to Covid-19 than walking around the block, which we’re told is permitted and indeed encouraged. He’s not going to infect people driving his van.

Neither have I seen any statement clearly explaining how far we’re supposed to venture, if at all, from our immediate neighbourhood. Pre-lockdown, I was in the habit of riding my bike to the end of a nearby country road. I don’t know how far it is, but there and back takes roughly an hour at a reasonably brisk pace.

The road is quiet even in normal times and positively ghostly right now. I’m almost as likely to see an aardvark as another human being. If I did that ride today, would I risk being pulled over by a cop? And if I was, and I asked him/her to explain what risk I posed, what would he/she say? What’s the difference between riding on that quiet country road and endlessly circling my local suburban block, where I’m far more likely to encounter other people?

That said, I think most of us accept that there are justifiable limitations on what we can do. There’s a lovely bush walk about 30 minutes’ drive from my place, but it’s well out in the countryside and I’d probably be pushing the envelope if I drove there. So how about the network of nice walking trails on the other side of town, just 10 minutes from my place? Some snitch dobbed Clark in for travelling less than that distance for his bike ride (the anonymous media informant claimed to be “horrified”, which tells you something about his or her fragile psychological state), so would I be breaking the rules if I drove there? Is there some sort of invisible, virtual line on the road that marks a boundary that I’m not supposed to cross? If so, how am I supposed to know where it is? I’ve read a lot about the Alert Level 4 regulations, but seen no practical guidance about this.

Now let’s take this a step further. I have a friend in her 70s who, until last week, swam every day in the sea near her place in Auckland. In an email to me yesterday she said she’d love to be able to swim now; the weather’s hot and the tides are ideal. But she’s been told it’s not allowed, and being a conscientious, law-abiding citizen, keen to do the right thing, she’s complying. At the same time, she can’t understand it. The authorities indicate that it’s because they don’t want emergency services having to rescue people, but for heaven’s sake; she’s been swimming without incident at her local beach for years and points out there have never been lifeguards there anyway, presumably because it’s a harbour beach and very safe.

Similarly, a mate of mine in Nelson wanted to go surfing at Rabbit Island, as is his habit. That’s forbidden too, just in case the Coast Guard has to be called out to save someone. Really? How often do you hear of the Coast Guard having to rescue a surfer? And in sheltered Tasman Bay, of all places? It’s absurd.

The problem here is a predictable one. The urge to control human behaviour is ingrained in officialdom, and a health crisis provides a perfect excuse to indulge in a bit of gratuitous control freakery. It doesn’t help that until today, we had a police commissioner who gave the impression of relishing the opportunity to talk tough about the possible consequences for people rash enough to flout the rules. I hope his successor strikes a less bullying tone.

In a situation like the present one, there’s always a danger that governments will err on the side of authoritarianism on the pretext that it’s for the public good. Many New Zealanders are old enough to recall that happening during the 1951 waterfront dispute, when basic civil liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of association were suspended under the Public Safety Conservation Act (the name says it all), which a Labour government finally repealed in 1987.

But governments need to carry the public with them, and never more so than in the effort to contain Covid-19. That won’t be achieved by alienating and antagonising people through heavy-handed enforcement of petty rules. I’m sure Jacinda Ardern understands that, but the message appears to have got lost in translation. A bit more clarity and consistency would be helpful.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A perfect antidote to the coronavirus scare

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and on, April 1).

While our fellow New Zealanders were angsting over the escalating coronavirus crisis last month, my wife and I were on the road. It was possibly the best place to be.

There’s something to be said for isolation, and I don’t mean the isolation everyone has experienced over the past week in their homes. In our case it came from being in remote places where access to newspapers, TV, the Internet and even radio was intermittent and sometimes non-existent. This meant we were able to make our way around some of the scenic nooks and crannies of the upper North Island largely untroubled by the increasingly gloomy news emanating from Wellington.

And when I say scenic, I mean scenic. There is no more effective antidote to a looming health catastrophe than the visual distraction of the New Zealand landscape.

Our route took us through Hawke’s Bay, the Volcanic Plateau, the Bay of Plenty, the King Country, the Waikato and North Auckland. Everywhere we went, New Zealand from the road was a joy to behold. It just keeps looking lovelier.

It’s not just the obviously outstanding physical features, such as mountains, lakes and beaches, that make this country so pleasing to the eye. On a more basic level, it’s something very simple: trees. Nothing transforms the landscapes so much as trees, and over my lifetime I’ve watched as they’ve grown and proliferated throughout rural New Zealand.

Despite the opprobrium heaped on them for supposedly raping the land for profit, farmers deserve much of the credit for this. Early pastoralists may have stripped the land bare in their eagerness to turn it into grass, but subsequent generations of farmers understood the aesthetic value of trees and we all benefit.

So where did we go? Well, we stayed at Ohiwa, a magical spot in the eastern Bay of Plenty where the camping ground nestles under a pohutukawa-clad bluff, at the top of which, if you don’t mind a bit of a climb, you can see the remains of fortified pa sites, strategically located so as to command a view of advancing enemies.

Maori history is all around us, but it’s often not obvious. You have to seek it out, but it’s there – as in the Hukutaia Domain, near Opotiki, where we gazed in silent awe at a massive, 2000-year-old puriri tree called Taketakerau, the Burial Tree, under which the Upokorehe iwi interred the bones of their distinguished dead.

Ohiwa has the great advantage of being out of reach of what I call the Auckland Effect. No offence to our biggest city, but Auckland is like a gradually spreading stain whose economic and cultural imprint extends far beyond its official territorial boundaries.

As with London and the rest of Britain, there is Auckland and then there is the rest of New Zealand. It exists in its own bubble, but one that keeps expanding. From Auckland north to Warkworth is effectively one giant construction zone.

Pahi, on the Kaipara Harbour, is distant enough to have escaped the Auckland Effect too. I wanted to go there because it was where an uncle of mine had a hideaway, and I reasoned – correctly, as it turned out – that he would have chosen it for the best of reasons.

It’s an enchantingly pretty and serene corner of the world. From our caravan site at Pahi we looked out over an arm of the Kaipara at a scene depicted in a Dick Frizzell painting that hangs in our lounge. We bought the Frizzell print years ago because the place he painted, called Whakapirau, was so unmistakeably New Zealand. I’m pleased to report that although there are a few more houses at Whakapirau now (and the classic Kiwi caravan on the hillside in Frizzell's painting is nowhere to be seen), its essential character is unchanged.

I can’t mention Pahi without returning to the subject of trees, because it’s the site of a magnificent Moreton Bay fig tree thought to have been planted before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. And 15 minutes’ drive away is the justly famous Matakohe Kauri Museum, which intrigued me because while it celebrates this most majestic of trees, it simultaneously pays tribute to the rugged and resourceful men who cut them down and milled them.

So what else did we do? We enjoyed a spectacular sunset framed by elegantly sculpted macrocarpas at Muriwai Beach. On the Napier-Taupo road I bored my wife for the umpteenth time about what the road was like when I was kid, when it was unsealed and tortuously slow and deer sometimes crossed in front of you.  In Tauranga we missed a crucial turnoff amid road works and I cursed the NZTA – again, not for the first time – for its pathetically inadequate signage.

We also had one of those two-degrees-of-separation moments when we found that another couple among the four in our tour group at the Waitomo Caves used to live just along the road from us. Only in New Zealand …

Oh, and we were rudely woken when our caravan was rammed by a rogue ute at 4.30am in the Port Waikato camping ground, but that’s a story for another time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Harawira's opportunistic try-on in the Far North

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Hone Harawira and his mates are manning checkpoints on main highways in the Far North to intercept tourists and turn them back, ostensibly to protect their people from Covid-19. He describes it as a border-closing exercise. And the police, whose statutory duty is to maintain law and order, appear to have meekly gone along with this brazen usurpation of their authority by a failed MP (he was tossed out by his own Maori voters in 2014) with no legal mandate whatsoever. So too, we are told, has the local mayor, former National MP John Carter.

While the eyes of the country and the media have been on supermarket queues, toilet paper shortages and prime ministerial press conferences, Harawira appears to be using the health crisis as a smokescreen for an opportunistic grab for power – and he’s getting away with it.

Some commentators have rightly highlighted the risk that new rules imposed to control the spread of Covid-19 will lead to an abuse of state power, but an even greater danger to civil liberties is posed when Maori activists take it upon themselves to limit people’s freedom of movement. Politicians can at least be punished at the next election if they get things wrong or overstep the mark, but who is Harawira accountable to? No one.

We didn't see this coming, but perhaps we should have. Harawira comes from a whanau with a long history of bullying and aggressive behaviour.

His concerns about the threat posed to Maori health in the Far North by thoughtless overseas tourists might be entirely valid. Elderly Maori are especially vulnerable. But no one, Maori or otherwise, gave Harawira the right to take matters into his own hands (with the help of his rugby league-playing mates, whose presence at the roadblocks can be counted on to intimidate travellers into complying with their instructions/requests).

This is a classic try-on: a direct challenge to the authority of those who are supposed to be in charge, such as the police and district council. And far from resisting him, they’re cravenly waving him through.

Police deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha dresses up police co-operation with Harawira as a matter of supporting local iwi and encouraging people to work together. It’s not about putting roadblocks in place, he assured Radio NZ. But that’s exactly what it is, even if Haumaha prefers to use bullshit euphemisms such as “safe assembly points” or “community safety zones”.

Harawira was also interviewed on RNZ but predictably wasn’t asked the obvious questions, such as who appointed him as local commissar or where he got his authority. He talked of “weeding out tourists” and “politely” turning them around and sending them back to Auckland. He sounded like a man confident no one would try to stop him, and indeed claimed he was working with the police.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers the failure of the police to take action on previous occasions when Maori protesters defied the law by blocking public roads leading to disputed land, or allowed the iwi of James Takamore to keep his body against his family’s wishes when all the courts said it had no right to.

You could almost be excused for wondering whether Harawira fancies himself as a local version of the Middle Eastern and North African warlords who exercise total authority within their own domains and are answerable to no one.  The disgrace is that the people we rely on to uphold the rule of law are standing back and letting it happen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sleepless in San Francisco (not to mention Sydney, Grey Lynn and Hawke's Bay)

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and on, March 18).

Not long ago, my wife and I spent a largely sleepless Saturday night in a Hawke’s Bay motel. The experience confirmed one of two things: either we’re lousy judges of places to stay, or we’ve been condemned by a vindictive god to share accommodation with the most inconsiderate fellow guests on the planet.

I admit there have been times when the former explanation may have been true. There was a memorable night many years ago when we ill-advisedly booked into a budget-priced San Francisco hotel where every other room appeared to be occupied by hard-partying Mexicans.

Our fellow guests caroused with such manic energy that you could have been excused for thinking they’d been told the Apocalypse was imminent and they were determined to make the most of their final hours. Riotous festivities raged all around us throughout the night, the din so all-encompassing that for much of the time we couldn’t identify exactly where it was coming from. Sometimes it seemed to be from the floor above us, sometimes below, and sometimes on the same level.

At times the revelry took on the character of a moving carnival, briefly subsiding in one part of the hotel before suddenly erupting with renewed vigour somewhere else. We felt as if we had blundered into a madcap celebration that involved everyone in the building except us.

Two or three times in the course of a long night I phoned the unfortunate clerk on the desk. He was sympathetic but there wasn’t much he could do in the face of such formidable odds.

I can’t recall whether we got any sleep. What I do know is that when we passed through San Francisco again a couple of weeks later, I made sure we booked into a reputable chain hotel where we could expect order to prevail.

Then there was the night when we stayed in a hotel in downtown Sydney. This time we were kept awake by male guests barking into their phones all night in what sounded like an Eastern European language. This was punctuated by the sound of doors being slammed shut or loudly banged on. My wife was convinced that our fellow guests were members of an international drug cartel setting up a deal, in which case they were the most comically indiscreet criminals since Pulp Fiction.

Perhaps hardened – or more likely discouraged – by our San Francisco experience, I didn’t bother complaining to the desk.

I could have confronted our tormentors, but there were several of them and one of me. I had to weigh up the moral certitude of having right on my side against the unpleasantness that would result if they took exception to being told off. I mean, what if they really were hardened criminals packing Glock pistols?

So, cravenly rationalising that it was for only one night, we decided to tough it out.

The scene now shifts to Auckland – to a motel in Grey Lynn. We were woken in the early hours by anguished and prolonged caterwauling from below us. A woman visiting a ground-floor unit had outstayed her welcome and been ejected. Now she was standing in the carpark wailing at the top of her voice and piteously imploring to be let back in, insisting – improbably – that she lived there.

The police were eventually called and the unfortunate woman, who appeared to be under the influence of some mind-altering substance, was persuaded to leave quietly.

Tribulations like these have led us to ponder whether such experiences are commonplace or – a more likely explanation – that we’re somehow jinxed. Certainly, we have learned to exercise caution in choosing accommodation.

Alas, that’s no guarantee of anything. The Hawke's Bay motel we stayed in not long ago was respectable and well managed, but we still had to suffer the familiar Saturday night curse of inconsiderate guests returning after a night of revelry, shouting to each other and noisily banging on doors. 

This time, though, we experienced something new and bizarre. At about 3am we were woken by the sound of a diesel motor idling immediately outside our door.

When the noise persisted, I went outside to check. Sure enough, there was a ute parked with its motor running – and no sign of a driver. It was as if the Marie Celeste had been reincarnated in the form of a Ford Ranger. 

Having no idea where the driver might be, I went back to bed. Not long after, we heard someone get into the vehicle, emphasising his indifference to sleeping guests by slamming the ute’s door as he did so, and drive off.

That was at about 3.30am. At last we could look forward to some undisturbed slumber.

Ha! Fat chance. Five minutes later, though it was pitch dark, a blackbird began singing its heart out in a tree beside our unit's front door. It's true then: we're jinxed.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Never mind unconscious bias - here are some conscious biases that I'm happy to declare

(First published in The Dominion Post and on, March 19.)

We’ve heard a lot in recent months about something called unconscious bias. Apparently this is the bias you have when you don’t know you have a bias. Perhaps we should call it the Claytons bias.

The genius of the concept is that people accused of having an unconscious bias are in no position to deny it, for the obvious reason that they weren’t aware of it. Thus they are held to be guilty by default, as it were.

Personally, I see no point in agonising over my unconscious biases when I don’t know what they are. In any case, I have plenty of conscious ones to keep me occupied, and which I’m happy to declare. Here are some of the things I have conscious biases about:

■ Sanctimonious vegans who aren’t content to quietly follow their conscience when it comes to dietary choices, but must parade their virtue and harangue those of us who enjoy meat and dairy products. I have an especially acute bias against celebrities who take advantage of their high profile in the media to push for a transition to a plant-based economy. I wouldn’t tell James Cameron how to make movies and I’d rather he didn’t tell me what I should eat. 

■ People who insist on inflicting their hideous musical tastes on everyone within a 100-metre range, whether they’re having a barbecue at the beach or driving down the street with the car windows wide open and the stereo cranked up to 11. It goes without saying that their musical tastes are invariably hideous because that’s the sort of people they are. But they apparently believe that the only reason we don’t all love Led Zep is that we haven’t heard them loud enough. Excessive noise is a pernicious invasion of privacy that should be punishable by internment in a confined space where loudspeakers play It’s A Small World After All on endless rotate.

■ Ageing, tough-talking politicians who address reporters as “Sunshine”, channelling Inspector Jack Regan from The Sweeney and imagining that they sound menacing.

■ Australians who make jokes about the New Zealand accent. A British-born Aussie columnist recently referred to Raelene Castle, the New Zealander who runs the Australian Rugby Union, as the Vuccar of Dubbly, thereby mocking her accent while simultaneously making a snide comment about her looks.  Apparently it didn’t occur to him that no one born in England – a country where an East Ender struggles to understand a Liverpudlian, and someone from the West Country might as well speak in Swahili to a Geordie from Tyneside – is in any position to disparage another country’s way of speaking; and still less so when that person has taken up citizenship in Orstrylia, whose national accent, in its more extreme forms, is about as euphonious as the screeching of a galah.

■ Shared plates in restaurants, which I suspect are a cunning plot to make people pay more for less.

■ Freedom campers who treat the landscape with contempt, transforming scenic spots into something resembling Sudanese refugee camps, only with less exacting hygiene standards. It beggars belief that some councils humour these spongers by making available an app that advises them on places where they can set up camp and presumably defecate on any convenient patch of ground. Most New Zealanders would be only too happy to tell freedom campers where to go – preferably the nearest airport.

■ Tiresome left-wing moralists masquerading as stand-up comedians, kidding themselves that they’re edgy when in fact they play it safe by pandering to the smug, conformist group-think of their like-minded audiences.  

■ Taxpayer-funded broadcasters using their privileged position to promote their pet ideological agendas.

■ David Attenborough – not so much for his preaching about climate change, although God knows that’s tedious enough, as for his habit of manipulating viewers’ emotions by anthropomorphising the creatures in his documentaries – in other words, encouraging us to think of them as behaving and feeling like humans.

■ Transgender activists who aren’t content to quietly follow their inclination without any fuss, as transgender people used to do (the author Jan Morris, for example), but who demand to be noticed and paid homage to as an oppressed minority.

■ Neo-Marxist ideologues who want to reconstruct the English language by erasing all reference to biological sex. In one of the more bizarre idiocies of 2019, a parliamentary select committee considering the abortion bill was urged to replace the term “pregnant woman” with “pregnant person” – a proposal that found favour with Green MP Jan Logie, who thought “pregnant person” was more inclusive. Seriously. And to think they let these people out unaccompanied in public.