Saturday, July 27, 2013

We don't know how lucky we are

(First published in The Dominion Post, July 26.)
PERHAPS OUR politicians aren’t such a bad lot after all. Consider the following.
British Conservative MP Patrick Mercer recently resigned as party whip after the embarrassing disclosure that undercover reporters had paid him £4000 – part of a promised contract worth £24,000 a year – to ask questions in Parliament, supposedly on behalf of Fijian business interests.

Only days later, two Labour peers, Lords Cunningham and Mackenzie, were suspended by their party after being filmed boasting how they could get around House of Lords rules to promote clients’ interests.
For £144,000 a year, Cunningham – a former minister in Tony Blair’s government – offered to host social events on the House of Lords terrace, lobby ministers and arrange parliamentary questions on behalf of a fictitious South Korean solar energy company. An Ulster Unionist peer, Lord Laird, was caught in the same sting and resigned from his party.

The Sunday Times quoted Cunningham as saying to undercover reporters: “Are you suggesting 10,000 pounds a month? Make that 12,000 a month. I think we could do a deal on that.”
The phrase “snouts in the trough” barely begins to describe such venality. And the suspicion is, as Spectator columnist Rod Liddle put it, that all the British politicians are at it – “it’s just that the cameras aren’t there to see them”.

Meanwhile, across the Tasman, the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party has been caught up in a long-running corruption inquiry that upholds Sydney’s reputation as the southern hemisphere's Chicago. 
The Independent Commission Against Corruption heard that disgraced ex-Labor minister Ian Macdonald granted coal exploration licences, in highly suspicious circumstances, to two mates: wealthy Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and a former union boss, John Maitland. Obeid’s family and friends allegedly stood to make a windfall profit of $100 million.

All this puts our own politicians’ peccadilloes – whether they involve watching hotel porn, behaving like an oick in a Hanmer Springs restaurant or getting too close to an attractive reporter – into perspective. Even Taito Phillip Field, the only New Zealand politician to be convicted of bribery and corruption, looks like Mister Clean by comparison.
* * *
IT WAS GOOD to see a humble mince and cheese pie win the supreme prize at the Bakels pie awards this week. In food, as in literature and music, you can’t beat a simple thing done well.

Traditionally working men’s fare, the pie has been subverted by nouveau-riche pretensions. It’s the culinary equivalent of those working-class, inner-city suburbs that have been gentrified by the university-educated, pinot noir-drinking, Citroen-driving bourgeoisie.

The rot set in when bakers with ideas above their station started creating such excesses as chicken, cranberry and camembert pie. Now they vie with each other to produce ever more outlandish concoctions such as the salmon, scallops, leaks and crabmeat pie that featured in this week’s awards.
Another entry was made from apple, vanilla bean, frangipani, rum and cinnamon. This is an affront to the proud heritage of the pie. Any pie that can’t be ordered at a lunch bar counter by a hungry truck driver without blushing should automatically be disqualified.

Perhaps the judges’ decision to honour the mince and cheese pie (itself a refinement of the plain meat pie, and therefore viewed with suspicion by some purists) is a symbolic act of rebellion – a signal that enough is enough. But we are left with a larger problem.
The asparagus roll, the club sandwich, the filled roll, the mince savoury and the sausage roll – gastronomic delights enjoyed by generations of New Zealanders – are all on the endangered list. In fact they’re almost extinct in central city cafes, surviving only in suburbs and provincial towns.

In their place, food cabinets in fashionable cafes are stacked with dreary, bland paninis, croissants and bagels. They have the texture of carpet tiles and slightly less flavour.
We have been beguiled into eating this arid fare on the false premise that it’s sophisticated and cosmopolitan, but it is no such thing. Give me a meat pie and a cheese and onion sandwich anytime. 

* * *

THE VOCAL idiosyncrasies of broadcasting journalists are a source of endless fascination.
We’ve had the harsh, strangled vowels, the habitual mispronunciations (other than for Maori place names, which are enunciated with great care) and the squealy, little-girl voices. Now it seems the fashion among female radio and television journalists is to sound as if they’re constantly on the verge of tears.

Television New Zealand’s Ruth Wynn-Williams and Radio New Zealand’s Olivia Wix are the prime exponents of this approach, reporting every news item as if they’re barely in control emotionally and at any moment could start sobbing convulsively.
The intention, presumably, is to ensure viewers and listeners are not merely passive consumers of news, but are emotionally engaged. Judy Bailey, who started all this back in the 1990s, has a lot to answer for.



Mika Rodenta said...

For a culture/language purist it seems unusual that you'd invoke an American commercial icon in a simile: Mr Taito Field/Mister Clean.
Do you think the notion of Mr Clean has simply slipped into our vocabulary via American film and music without us recognizing that there are cleaning products associated with the tag in the USA?

Karl du Fresne said...

Mister Clean" has long been a metaphor (often used ironically) for someone with an unsullied public image. It may well have been inspired by the cleaning product - I just don't know.
Incidentally, I don't object to Americanisms per se. New expressions - whether they come from the US, Australia, Britain or wherever - invigorate the language and keep it fresh. What I don't like is the tendency for Americanisms to elbow aside our own distinctive terms (e.g."trail" and "track").

Al Clausen said...

Hi Karl, Just found your blog! Brings back many many memories of our days in Wellington circa 1960/61/62!!!!
We are presently in Denmark [Odense] and planning on going to Dybbol to visit some of the familys history.
Alvin Clausen

hughvane said...

Re vocal idiosyncrasies, I thought you might have made more of the topic. RNZ is riddled with politically correct wannabes, who will cheerfully butcher English (as she is spoke), but will dislocate their jaws over excruciatingly correct pronunciation, and enunciation, of Maori words.

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