Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Masterton you don't read about

(First published in The Dominion Post, April 4.)
SIGH. It’s happened again. Masterton has been back in the news, and for all the wrong reasons.
The town where I live is also home to the four people found guilty last week of bashing Featherston supermarket worker Glen Jones to death, supposedly in revenge for an alleged rape.

It’s also where police raided three properties a few days ago in a crackdown on cannabis and methamphetamine. Among the seizures was a loaded sawnoff shotgun.
I could imagine people reading those newspaper stories and nodding as if to say, “There you go – Masterton again.”

Masterton people are accustomed to a bad press. I call it a decile 1 to 10 town. Sociologically speaking, there’s a bit of everything here, from the genteel rich to a few families with multigenerational problems of violence, drugs, alcohol and welfare dependency.
Inevitably it’s the bad stuff that gets reported. News, by definition, is anything out of the ordinary, and what’s out of the ordinary is often bad: crime, car crashes, death and general unpleasantness. Ordinary people leading good lives – bringing up happy kids, supporting community organisations, doing useful work, playing sport, paying the bills – are not newsworthy.

The Masterton of the negative headlines is not the Masterton I have come to know. It’s not a town of lowlifes and no-hopers, though of course it has its share. The Masterton I know is a town full of good people.
It’s the town where the family that won $37 million in Lotto in 2009 has donated more than $1.5 million to the Wairarapa ambulance service.

It’s the town where, according to the nurse who took my blood recently, the Blood Service gets more donors than anywhere else in the Wellington region.
It’s the sort of town where, when someone gets cancer, her friends quickly rally round and organise a roster to drive her to Palmerston North Hospital each day for treatment.

And here’s another thing. Masterton actually doesn’t feel like Detroit or Juarez. By that I mean you don’t feel you’re taking your life in your hands walking down the street.
In more than 10 years here, we have been the victims of only one crime. Someone – I suspect kids – took advantage of an insecure shed to reach inside and steal a fishing rod. I hope they have better luck with it than I had.

My wife and I have now lived here longer than in any other locality. Our habit of moving house every few years used to be a standing joke among our friends, but Masterton has cured us of our peripatetic urges. That speaks for itself.
* * *

IN A PREVIOUS life I once interviewed the great British actor Donald Pleasence. We talked about eyes.
His own eyes were his most striking feature. They were a pale, steely, penetrating blue that could give him a quite menacing aura.  But Pleasence – a friendly, obliging man off-screen – reckoned the eyes by themselves communicated nothing. He insisted it was the accompanying facial expressions that conveyed meaning.

I had trouble accepting this, and still do. I was inclined to believe, as Shakespeare said, that the eyes are the windows to the soul.
I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been watching Kim Dotcom on television, and Dotcom strikes me as contradicting the Pleasence hypothesis. Even when the Internet Party founder’s face is smiling, his eyes seem to express distrust, suspicion and hostility.

They invite suspicion and distrust in return. I’ve decided I’m with Shakespeare on this one.

* * *

PERHAPS the least surprising news so far this year was that Hutt City Council officials are excited about the prospect of a new sports stadium at Petone.
Of course they are. Municipal functionaries are always keen to talk up any proposal that promises glamour and excitement, particularly in towns that conspicuously lack it.

Besides, it’s easy to get excited when it’s other people’s money that’s at risk.
Invariably, when such projects are proposed, council bureaucrats flourish glowing economic reports from obliging consultants.  But just watch the bureaucrats and the consultants go to ground when the stadium turns out to be a dog.

For a cautionary tale, Hutt ratepayers need only look to Dunedin, where projections for the Forsyth Barr Stadium turned out to be grossly over-optimistic.
That city is now lumbered with a facility that cost a lot more than expected and has failed to deliver the promised returns. It’s massively indebted and running at a loss. Isn’t that always the way?

The proposal for a 12,000-seat stadium at Petone strikes me as particularly misguided. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem – namely, the embarrassment of the Wellington Phoenix at having to perform in an almost empty Westpac Stadium. But who’s to say the Phoenix will even exist in five years?

No comments: