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Truth is stranger than fiction.

If you wrote a book featuring a scene where a 71-year-old man who has suffered three strokes, uses a walking stick, and has lost the power of speech, flies into London to be met by 60 police officers you would never get it published.

In real life, it happened yesterday when one of the more minor crooks involved in the 1960's, so-called, Great Train Robbery, prison escaper Ronnie Biggs, flew home from Brazil to take advantage of the free British health service.

If you mentioned the fact that the private jet he flew home in was paid for by Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper and that the story is on the front page of all the British newspapers and is the lead item on all the TV channels I guess you would be shown the door even quicker.

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Latest reply: May 8, 2001

It's that time of year again.

The time when, as the sun's daily arc slides further down the northern sky, I begin checking out the temperatures on the other side of the world. Yep, as autumn begins to make its presence felt with leaf-clogged drains and spoutings, I once again begin to experience temperature envy. Ours will drop away while in the northern lands they will rise. But it's only early days at the moment as the Indian summer lingers like the last person to leave a party. There is still warmth in the air and the temperatures are still being counted as 20-somethings.

That pleases me, as does the present, 15 degrees and rain situation in London. They're seven weeks out from the first day of summer. When we were at the same stage (October 6) last year the temperature in Napier was 21 and sunny.

And here and now, as I write this seven weeks out from the June 1 start of our winter, it is 22 degrees and sunny. When they were seven weeks out from their first day of winter it was 14 and raining. Only Rome managed to sneak into the 20s. ...and it was raining.

See how pathetic I am? it's schoolboy stuff. it's the "ours is better than yours" syndrome but I can't help it. It's my defence system against the imminent winter.

I'm not a big fan of the crisp months, although I'm lucky because I don't really feel the cold. It's nothing to do with having a thick skin or blood like treacle ... I think a few years labouring, some of it outside in mid-winter, and riding motorcycles all year-round for a couple of decades acclimatised the old system.

But through my silly temperature comparison games, and midwinter joy at noting that while it may be 26 in summertime London it's cloudy, I get through.

We are lucky, no doubt about that.

During the heatwave of January we could make a decision to head for the beach and be there within 10 minutes. And that was with a stop for ice creams on the way. No traffic jams, no problems.

Not even the filthy big grey scabby stingray I stepped on during an afternoon at Westshore could ruin that lifestyle luxury. Odd things stingrays. The brute I disturbed was lying in mere ankle-deep water like an aquatic version of Quasimodo ... great scarred hump and two dark little eyes peering at me. At first I thought it was a rock ... until I stepped on it and it thrashed sideways. After I saw what it was I produced the classic "get out of the water!" scene from Jaws except my insistence that my daughter and grandson leave the water "very quickly" was brilliantly ill-conceived.

I herded them out .... straight into the arms (make that flapping wings) of the critter. They dashed by within barb distance and we all watched as it drifted south along the, shallows, scattering bathers like a flatulent man in a lift. Nerve-soothing drinks were required on the voyage home.

There was the midsummer madness of building Archie, a little raft with a sail, which the grandson and I launched in a howling westerly. It overturned just seconds after being set free. A month later Archie 2 also capsized ... but in late February Archie 3 and 4 (we covered our design bets) drifted far over the horizon.

There was the laughter and saturation while swimming and fishing at Raglan, and chasing the big crabs that hung out around the rock pools south of the Raglan bar. And the other bar of course. We visited them all, and oh how I chased that fizzy cold prey that hung around the tables.

There was the Mission Concert madness, the 1930s-style fun of Art Deco Weekend, the warm days we managed to lose at a river, a beach, a cricket one-dayer or a winery ... and of course there was the Great Long Lunch.

It was like a scene from a Peter Greenaway film - the genteel string quartet, the speckled shade from the Norfolk pines and a table so long I was sure I could see the curvature of the earth ... although that was late in the day after Andy had returned with a few chilled Chardonnays.

These will remain warm memories for cold winter nights, and as a bonus I now have about five months to plot and plan the summer foolishness of 2001-2002.

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Latest reply: Apr 18, 2001

Bollocks ruled OK

Another "b" word may be sneaking into acceptable speech.

It seems B*****ks has followed Bxxxxr to become an acceptable word on New Zealand radio and television.

The Advertising Standards Complaints Board has declined a complaint from a parent who was upset at the expression being used in a TV advertisement at quarter to six at night.

The board says b*****ks is defined as an exclamation of annoyance of disbelief, and replaces the words nonsense or rubbish

It notes just 19 per cent of a thousand people surveyed, found the word either fairly or totally unacceptable.

The advertisement at the centre of the complaint went to air for several months on TV3.

It was a promotion for radio station Channel Z.

Two of the announcers were referred to as "talking a lot of b******s".

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Latest reply: Apr 2, 2001

Women On Top

Occasionally on h2g2 I have mentioned how women hold all the top jobs in New Zealand. Here's another take on it.

Sure, women are running New Zealand but men thought up the whole idea so they could get down to the pub, Britons have been told.

British newspaper The Daily Telegraph last week noted that when Dame Silvia Cartwright takes over as Governor-General, she would complete a historic hat-trick for New Zealand. "All three top constitutional positions below the Queen, who is head of state, are now held by women," the newspaper said.

"Between them, Dame Silvia, Helen Clark, the prime minister, and Sian Elias, the Chief Justice, control almost all the levers of constitutional power in New Zealand.

"The leader of the opposition, the attorney-general and the mayor of Auckland, the country's largest city, are also women, challenging popular perceptions of New Zealand as a largely masculine culture."

A New Zealander signing himself Chris Jones was moved to send an explanatory letter to the editor of Britain's biggest-selling broadsheet.

"Sir - as a New Zealander, I am amazed that you should be surprised that New Zealand is now run by women (report, March 22). Every New Zealand male's ideal is to be able to slope off to the pub while the women do all the work. "When we gave votes to women in 1893 we knew what we were doing. Chris Jones, London, SE 11."

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Latest reply: Mar 31, 2001

Let the chickens fly

Last week I spoke at a conference. It was the after-dinner part of the conference, when people get down to the business of networking. It's hard and vital work. I've seen many a conference delegate late at night so utterly networked that he's had to be helped to bed. I had been asked to speak about something to do with marketing and the media and I used to work in the media. I only worked on newspapers because I couldn't think of anything else to do but that didn't seem to bother the organisers. And anyway, as I say, it was an after-dinner speech so I didn't have to know stuff, and besides the bloke who rang me begged me not to be too serious. Inject a little levity, he said. I said I'd try.

When I got the letter confirming the engagement. It told me that instead of a fee I'd be getting an honorarium, which was exciting because I'd never had one before. Then it went on to tell me what the expected outcomes of my speech would be. Now I've had a bit of experience with outcomes. When I was at university - where I worked hard on my networking but on little else - the authorities were fond of outcomes. Outcomes were the opposite of inputs. The teaching staff made inputs and the students came away with outcomes. Of course teaching doesn't work even remotely like that but those in the business of teaching students have to pretend that it does in order to suggest that they know what they're doing. But any teacher talking of outcomes is usually talking rubbish.

And the same is true of speeches. I recall, for example, being asked to speak at a fund-raising function in aid of a rural tennis club. The expected outcome was polite applause and a richer tennis club. Quite how it happened that the outcome was me hurling frozen chickens at the audience in the hope of braining a fat man at the back; and that most of the chickens were intercepted in mid-air by an athletic contingent on a social outing organised by the society for the partially deaf, and that in response to the barrage of frozen chickens I was subjected to a reciprocal barrage of beer glasses; and that I put the chicken box on top of my head and ran from the stage peering through the handles in the box while glasses thudded against its sides, and that a woman in the kitchen wiped the chicken blood from the shoulders of my pin-stripe and then thrust me into a cupboard and shut the door; and that the whole of the rural community was involved in a dust-up which continued cheerfully into the small hours as a direct consequence of my speech, would take too long to describe.

All I will say is that it made me perpetually suspicious of outcomes. Such talk presumes that the world is consistent and humanity predictable. That neither statement is true I for one give thanks (though on the Night of the Frozen Chickens my views might have differed).

So much for outcomes. But the letter of engagement was not yet done. Here's the fourth paragraph in full: "Please give consideration to Treaty of Waitangi [treaty between Maori and the British Crown signed in 1840 guaranteeing Maori certain rights] and gender equity issues when you are preparing your presentation."

Now I don't wish to appear ungrateful but I do want to ask why this request was made. In one sense that is an easy question to answer. The conference was partly funded by a quasi governmental organisation, and I presume it must pay lip-service to the orthodoxy's of the age before it dishes out the honorariums. And to be frank I doubt if the author of the letter expected me to attend to the request. Her paragraph had all the force of meaning of a 'yours sincerely'.

And of course I gave no consideration to the Treaty of Waitangi nor to gender equity nor to any issues whatsoever when I prepared my presentation. Indeed I didn't do much preparing at all. All I did was to try to make the audience laugh. And they laughed because I said something true. Truth always makes people laugh. And at the same time truth makes all the vapid language of the bureaucratic world seem as hollow as it is. The world will not be tamed by pieties. The world indeed will not be tamed at all, not by me, nor by the politicians, nor by moderators on websites, nor by any platitudes intended to ensure that the takers of umbrage can find none to take. For that, I think, is all these words exist to try to do.

And I prefer to act by sterner judgements of what's right and wrong to say. If what I say is right the audience will laugh. And if I get it wrong the chickens fly.

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Latest reply: Mar 28, 2001

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