Yet another ‘Lockdown Day One’ recap

An occasional insight into working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown, with your other half who also works for the same educational institution.

New Zealand, 26 March 2020

Couldn’t sleep from 4am so got up and had a shower at 5.30am as I didn’t bother with such a time-wasting activity yesterday (I started this lockdown earlier than most people). Don’t judge my ablutions ok, I don’t know when I will run out of soap. Went back to bed until just before 8. Even though I knew the pips were coming up for the RNZ news, I didn’t tune in. I haven’t listened to any news bulletins so far today (8.58am) as I want to feel clean for a while. 

Emptied the kitchen compost and filled up all my bird feeders around the property. Was about to video my happy moment of watching the birds feed when the new neighbour’s cat came and pounced, unsuccessfully, on those fat dumb Malay spotted doves that really have shite for brains. I shooed the cat, but he remained beneath the feeder, which, for your interest, is two three-quarter coconut shells hanging on my clothesline. You can get them at Bin Inn. Oh, wait. Oh well, they will still be there in four weeks. 

The cat, who I may as well name Intrudy as we have four weeks of this, remained despite my shooing so I brought out my handy gel-pellet shooter gun. You can get these at HobbyZone. Oh wait. Anyway, it looks like this. The cat ran off but then surreptitiously sneaked to another part of the house to start a fight with elderly ginger Reggie, also a cat, sunning himself on our deck. Does Intrudy not understand lockdown?  I did not anticipate running out of gel pellets so soon. I have brought Reggie’s outside chair inside next to the open door (screen door to keep out any Covid-carrying flies) and he seems to quite like it. 

Reggie with his chair brought inside. For the record, those Crocs are for gardening!

Earlier, before the first cat-chase-bird incident, I was talking to Reggie. My husband said: “omg it’s day one and you’re having a full conversation with the cat”. ‘Don’t interrupt,’ I said. ‘I can’t hear what Reggie is saying.’ Also, I said, at least I’m showered and dressed. 

When I got back to my phone, there was a Viber message from my husband who was sitting in the office about four metres away. 

He got the wrong ‘too’ but it made me laugh so I don’t mention it. 

Made coffee. So grateful to have “wasted all that money” on a coffee machine. The relief. 

Checked in on mother in retirement village in Taupo. Her apartment looks over the main road and she said it’s so quiet. Not a car has gone by. ‘There goes sitting and watching the world go by; it’s gone already.”

While I was writing this I realised I’m NOT alone! A tiny spider is walking back and forth across the top of my monitor. (Note, this was a portent of things to come.)

Noticed that Melissa Etheridge is doing 15-minute Facebook Live concerts today. Imagine she won’t be encouraging people to “Come by my window” or “Bring me some water”.   

So then I checked Twitter and quite frankly this tweet couldn’t be beaten when you’re an Aucklander who’s used to being stuck in rush- hour traffic, so I started work. Second tweet one minute after the first.

Rest of the work day

Our 10am Zoom meeting was nice and tight – 30 minutes. Someone described it as the highlight of their day and I figured her threshold for entertainment must already be rock bottom so I think we might need to have a remote Houseparty with her (it’s an app not an illegal activity). She is doing a sterling job with a three-year-old wrapped around her neck. 

I’ve decided to have a lunch-hour every day. This novel approach to work is unfamiliar to me but as, thus far today, I am getting a lot more done with clarity I think I deserve it. Mental health and exercise are important. Today I followed a F45 workout that I did in our carport on two $40 bits of carpet I bought at Mitre 10 the day before lockdown. It went surprisingly well and the neighbour didn’t come to chat because he was too busy testing how many decibels he could create while working outside. F45 @ Home requires timed movements and for me, intense concentration to ensure I don’t kill myself. Neighbour (a decent Irishman who likes to talk) has no sense of time, because he works from home as a mechanic. Anyway, he appears to be smashing a car to bits. If this is yours and you’re getting it fixed, maybe you should have chosen a less stressful time to have your car serviced. Also you’ll be picking it up in four weeks. The smashing and banging has, of course, been timed nicely to coincide with my 2pm Zoom meeting.

I don’t mind the Zooms at this point. I like to come up with a different virtual background every day so I don’t have to tidy my house. 

Like this:

Anyway, it’s not my most professional approach, but these are strange times. 

The magazine that was I was working on has to change its content to reflect what’s going on. Logical given the situation, so I’m coming up with new timelines, new ideas and just drafting those up when a quavering voice comes from the husband. 

“We have an issue.”

I assume it’s something to do with him having to teach remotely next week. Maybe he’s lost a file or is struggling with some aspect of Zoom. 

No, it’s this: 

Mr Bravery looks at me as though I am going to do something about it. 

“That’s the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life,” he says helpfully, in case being locked up with him for a day has rendered me blind. 

I get an extendable duster thing – very extendable, like more than Covid19-safe distance away – and poke it at the spider which obligingly hops on, doesn’t run like a crazed bastard, and I calmly, not calmly, take it outside. I feel triumphant. I have saved our bubble from another intruder. I am fast turning into the Bubble Defender. 

I Snapchat it and this comes back from my nurse niece. 

She is correct. This was a definite “just burn the house down” type of spider. However, we need a bubble in which to protect ourselves so I didn’t. Besides, there are sooooo many flies around I’m hoping the spider can help. (I have worked out that four out of five flies I spray with fly spray do not drop dead.)  

I work, then at 1630 have had enough. The husband appears from the office, unshaven and looking a bit blazed. His brain hurts. He’s learning new things. Now he knows how the students feel.

We get very excited at the idea of playing with the cat. Not the old one, the young spritely one.  

Shortly after, I reach peak excitement for the day when two courier deliveries arrive. First delivery is meat I ordered online at the perfectly normal time of 2am, after Countdown onlinr groceries didn’t send any because they were all out of stock. It was my first ever order at Wholesale Meats and would recommend. If they’re still delivering, that is. All delicious-looking and I wedge it into the ridiculously full freezer. I realise we are privileged but if that claps out, we are doomed. 

Second delivery was some new speakers for the computer (also ordered two days before lockdown) so when the husband is listening to songs, which he then plays on his keyboard, he can hear them better. Louder. Loud enough to drown out all the lawnmowers that are going midweek. Also because, quite frankly, if you are going to be locked inside for four weeks, gadgets can make a difference. 

I notice that all my regular “workweek hustle” crew on Fitbit are high-fiving themselves for having done their steps. Although I exercised at lunchtime I have not done mine, so I decide to walk to the supermarket for steps and to see if the madness is over. 

All the way there, there are waves and hellos and it’s kind of like I remember NZ back in the day. Or during Carless Days. Also no one walking is on their phone at the same time. Probably sick of looking at them. 

The supermarket is heaven. You line up (but only two ahead of me) at a safe distance outside, then get drip-fed into the store. It’s how it always should be! Personal space not encroached by people in pyjamas or kids with snotty noses. I actually stand in an aisle and enjoy it. It’s my outing. I don’t want to stay long though but I feel quite happy there. I’m just too scared to touch anything. All the staff are wearing masks and gloves though and there are various defensive mechanisms put in place. It’s also very weird.

The shelves mostly have stuff on them. I only came for butter, dishwasher tabs and wine. But I find myself buying quite a lot of alcohol. There are no baskets – filthy things – so husband comes to collect me as I can’t carry it all. (Note: I do not plan to leave the house very often and it will be him that goes in in future.)

I didn’t do this, by the way:

I catch up with social media that I have mostly avoided all day, and glance at the news. The news is already stressing me out so despite having worked in that very industry for about 30 years before opting for a quieter editing life, I think I have to limit my consumption. We have more people with COVID-19 but I don’t read any more as I’m already over it. 

I laugh louder than I should at this: 

Of course, by the time you’re reading this, this meme will have already been sent to you about 550 times, but this was day one.

And that’s it really. Minus some details of cat play and husband chat. We got through it. It was sunny. Just 27 days to go. At least. 

Diana Balham: July 24, 1965 – September 8, 2015

At least once a year, our organiser would email, text or call to propose our next lunch.

It was often tricky to get a time or day we could all manage but our organiser was tenacious. That day and time didn’t fit? Let’s try this. Let’s make it work.

These weren’t shallow “we must do coffee, soon” proclamations. Our organiser wouldn’t have any of that. She made it happen because she loved to keep in touch: to hear of everyone’s lives – their successes, their heartache, their dreams.

It wasn’t easy. “Hi guys, let’s try to organise a meal in town,” she wrote in a 2009 email. “Send me your incredibly complicated schedules soon!” Several emails later: “Can’t help thinking it would be easier to get a group together if we all worked at the local supermarket or pumped gas at the service station. Bloody globetrotters!”

On the occasions we’ve gathered over the past decade, usually a core of four but others came along or were at least invited, we found plenty to talk about. Two of us are 51, another is 50, the same age as the organiser. Our common history is the school we attended from 1978.

While the closest many get to maintaining contact with school friends is the tenuously named “friend” relationship on Facebook, our organiser preferred to keep it real.

Aotea College, 7th form, 1982. Diana is second from right in the second row from front. I am first on left in front row. Alastair is first on left in third row. Jo is to the right of the teacher in the front row.

We had met as foundation pupils at a little-known college in Porirua. It had been somewhat of a social experiment in its nascence, drawing students from low-decile homes in Porirua to the aspirational middle-class suburbs of Whitby to the didn’t-they-do-well families of Paremata and surrounds. Our group represented all bases.

We were all so very different in many regards, yet during our catch-ups, we laughed, debated, skirted around our differing political views and reflected on our career paths and families. Three of us had ended up travelling the journalistic route, one had then taken another turn and retrained as a librarian, while the bloke in our group had combined a career as a law firm CEO and respected figure in the creative arts.

In June, the organiser, Diana Balham, the youngest of our group, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She’d been feeling a bit unwell while travelling New Zealand, writing for a new guide book. That involved eating some exquisite-looking dishes, actually worthy of posts on Facebook; trouble is she suddenly didn’t feel like eating them and had been bloating up “like I’m bloody pregnant!” she said indignantly. For someone who was blessed with a washboard stomach despite our advancing years, this was the first of many indignities Diana would endure over the next three months.

Through most of our college years, Diana proudly wore a mane of very long, straight, blonde hair right down to her butt. It was a big move to cut most of it off to a ‘mature’ style some years ago. Then, after her first round of chemo, when lunch group member and her very close friend Alastair was visiting her at home, she asked him to shave it all off. It was already falling out and was “too fluffy and itchy”. He obliged, carefully, with much ceremony and we declared she had a fine head.

That was true in all regards. She was a smart, intuitive woman and I’d discovered this early on. My friendship with Diana differs to Alastair’s who has known her since primary school, as had our other core lunch group member Jo.

Chatting with Diana a month back, in Ward 64 at Auckland Hospital, we reminisced over schooldays as we often do. This seems odd to many but because we had been foundation pupils of a new school, we had been small in number in our first year and had all grown to know each other well. Many long-lasting friendships formed.

Diana was musical, diligent and highly intelligent; she had a vocabulary that left mine for dead, and paid absolutely no regard to peer pressure. She was also very funny, quirky, kind and had an amusing appreciation of the macabre.

I was a typically shallow teen – I tried to hang with the cool (i.e. not so well-behaved) kids but having a skirt sewn by my non-sewing mother did me no favours. (Diana would have worn hers as a badge of honour.) Towards the end of fourth form I threatened to veer in a direction that may have ended my education prematurely. I was sent to the library on various detentions where the librarian, Diana’s mother, Helen Balham, ignored my sneering and surly attitude and talked to me. A couple of times she gave me a bit of a telling off. You know the kind of stuff. ‘You have a brain, why don’t you put it to use instead of ending up here on detention’. She was very kind and I had to admit I liked her. It was about that time I started to really talk to Diana, even though she was ‘uncool’ and had the temerity to walk posture-perfect around the school carrying her clarinet case.

I straddled the uneasy friendship divide between my hard-ass Porirua mates and the ‘nerds’, she and Alastair being two of the more obvious examples of them. As an adult, I’d be more likely to call them model students of course, although Alastair did get into a bit of trouble for being a chatterer. I can still see Alastair and Diana walking side by side around school – she so tall and slim, he so short and with the chubbiness of pre-puberty. They were an easy target for a laugh in the early days but didn’t seem to care. They shared a love of music and a sense of humour and had known each other since primary school.

Aotea College had a 10-year reunion in 1988. That’s Alastair, Diana, me in behind, and Wendy one of our occasional lunchers.

Diana and Alastair at the school’s 10-year reunion in 1988.

Diana and I were in the same French class and, at some point, I realised I didn’t really like not being as good at French as her. She was always so encouraging, even at that age, and despite being light years ahead of me in ability in three of our common subjects, French, Latin and English, she pushed me to try harder. I’m pretty sure her mum Helen had a hand in that too. In January 1982, at the start of 7th form, we were lucky enough to spend 23 days in New Caledonia for French summer school. We looked out for each other and our friendship grew. (She was still better than me at French though.)

Back in third form, Alastair, Diana and I formed a school debating team. We delighted in being a Porirua school that took traditional schools by surprise. Diana was a big part of our success and after five years as a team we were fairly formidable and successful.

The 1982 write-up in the school magazine we edited, about our debating successes.
A 1982 write-up in the school magazine about our trio’s debating successes.

In our final year at school Diana, Alastair and I were part of the group of eight editors who dedicated many lunch hours and evenings to editing the school magazine. It was the days of typing and paste-up and no small feat. Looking back on SLACK MOAS now (School Literature and College Kids, More of Aotea’s Secrets), there is so much you would never get away with (the art teacher’s captions, and some I wrote, would not have passed the PC test today). Diana was tasked with writing snapshots for the Secret Sevens Centrefold, a wrap of the outgoing seventh formers. Of me: “Denise in full flight could reduce an onion to tears. However she has a soft spot for animals, she nearly killed the zoo’s gibbon trying to relate to it.” (From memory I had allowed it to take a piece of flax from me which it promptly tried to eat.) Of Alastair: “Must be admired for his iron constitution, having eaten more canteen food and come out alive than any other seventh former.” We forgave her.

Diana was the school's top student in seventh form.
Diana was the school’s top student in seventh form.

Over the years we went our own ways, she overseas and me into my first full-time job, at the Listener where I started as the illustrations editor. (No this was not anything artistic, I can barely form a stick figure correctly). When I departed in 1994, by which time we were in Auckland, Diana stepped into my Listener job, which by then was as a subeditor. She worked there as a subeditor and writer for 11 years before heading off to be publications editor at the New Zealand Opera and then freelancing full-time, including her quirky observations on life and landscape through her travel writing. She wrote the book Undiscovered Auckland: 70 Great Spots Waiting to be Explored, was a keen conservationist and volunteered for various causes in West Auckland where she lived with husband Derek and 10-year-old son David.

When Alastair first called me to tell me Diana had been diagnosed with cancer, so much was unknown. At first doctors thought it was in one place, then another, then another. I talked to Diana while she waited what felt like a lifetime for answers and treatment, in reality it was several weeks. A course of chemo then surgery was planned when they finally settled on ovarian cancer. Round one of chemo came and went with all the expected horror it entails. Round two came on her 50th birthday.

Alastair and I walked the hospital corridor past room upon room of people attached to chemo machines, in a scene reminiscent of science-fiction. Young, old, fat, thin, men, women, all races. No prerequisites were required to be part of this club, one no one had wanted to join. We entered Diana’s cubicle where she sat with about eight others receiving the potentially life-saving concoction. There were no walls to shield their expressions, their hope and their fears. Some sat alone, staring into the distance. Others made quiet conversation with loved ones. We were determined to give Diana the best time it’s possible to have while having chemotherapy on your 50th. (I apologise right now to the others there; we were a bit too jolly for the circumstances.) Another friend of Diana, Vanessa, had flown up from New Plymouth bearing flowers and hugs. Diana nibbled organic bliss balls and other small treats she could manage. She slathered herself in body cream from our Body Shop birthday basket, while Alastair draped himself in its ribbons to the watery smiles of those around us. At that point Diana was optimistic she would win the battle. She went out for a dinner that night with family and friends feeling upbeat.

Diana and me on her 50th birthday, spent having chemo and some laughs.
Diana and me on her 50th birthday, spent having chemo and some laughs.

Alastair, resplendant in ribbons on the occasion of Diana's 50th birthday, July 24, 2015.
Alastair, resplendant in ribbons on the occasion of Diana’s 50th birthday, July 24, 2015, Auckland Hospital chemotherapy ward.

Over the next week there were a number of lows. She wasn’t improving. Alastair had visited a lot, I had been out of town with work but had called and texted. When I got back I popped up to the hospital one evening after work. We had a great talk and I confided in her about my new job: returning to the Listener after 21 years, this time as chief subeditor. She was genuinely delighted and excited. When Alastair arrived soon after, she couldn’t help herself. “Can we tell him NOW?” Alastair also then told her of his new role as the Commissioner for New Zealand’s presentation at the 2017 Venice Biennale.  “Wow!” she shrieked as best she could. “We done good, us kids from Aotea didn’t we!” She was proud.

Blue steeling on her 50th.
Blue steeling on her 50th.

Alastair had brought another friend with him who was fascinated by how the three of us had maintained this school friendship. Even though he didn’t know the people about whom we spoke, he laughed at our recollections. Much of it was in Diana’s telling of the tales. She was a great storyteller, both orally and in the written form. There were current-day stories too and analyses of various characters we all knew but what is said in a hospital room stays there…

Diana was very sick by this point, although she had perked up on this day. She displayed a delicate mix of bravery and fear about what was ahead, and used them both to deliver her trademark black humour and the occasional, understandable, grumpy remark. In a loose-fitting hospital gown, with tubes coming out of her nose, she joked “well at least I have thin thighs for the first time in my life”.

When Alastair left, I stayed with her for a while until she grew tired. She said something quite revealing of her strength of character when we were laughing about the day she turned up on mufti day at school wearing one of her mother’s old school jerseys. “But I never WANTED to fit in. I wasn’t interested in it. I was quite happy how I was,” she said. I thought about it later that night and wished I had had the same integrity at such a young age. It takes quite some doing to reject peer pressure.

This is the famous and much talked about jersey that as far as I can recall was her mother’s in the 1950s and was dressed up by Diana – hideously but proudly – for mufti day. Only she could carry that off.

Because I was away with work the following week and then got a cold I didn’t want to pass on, that evening was the last time I saw her. We had laughed a lot amidst the damn unfairness of it all. For the next few weeks we kept in contact by phone and text. We still had hope.

A couple of weeks later came the news she had dreaded. That the cancer was terminal. And with that the unspeakable difficulty of having to convey this to people who loved her, especially their son. She took the time to inform people by email of the situation.

“Hi everyone,
As many of you will already know, my diagnosis is now terminal and I’m getting very sick very quickly. This brings me sorrow beyond belief, for myself, my friends and my family. I don’t know how to finish this email but I just want to say your support and love over the past few months has been the one happiness I have experienced. With love, Diana.”

The brutal honesty of it hit home. This is how she was. There was no dressing this up. No humour to be found in this cruel verdict. The fact is, her situation was an absolute, utter bastard.

Naturally she wanted as much time as possible with her nearest and that included the wedding of her elder brother David, which took place just three days before Diana died peacefully at home. Alastair was overseas at the time, which was tough for him, but he had recently spent a laughter-filled weekend with Diana, her husband Derek and young Davey at Alastair’s house, where Alastair’s joking threat of performing an interpretative dance for Diana was played out.

Alastair and I messaged each other and kept in contact with another of Diana’s good friends and neighbour to find out how Diana was doing mentally and physically. Diana’s acceptance of her fate was difficult, as it always will be when a child is left behind. She was so proud of her boy, not in that in-your-face ‘look at my child’ kind of way, but quietly proud. He is an intelligent and thoughtful child who if he assumes any of his mother’s attributes will achieve great things.

Five days before she died, I had texted her passing on the wishes of lots of Aotea College people, not just our lunch buddies, and naming all those I’d contacted. She texted me back soon after: “Thanks mate. Can you pass on my thanks to the others? xx”

After Diana passed away, Alastair messaged me of the influence of his dear childhood friend and I am sure he won’t mind me sharing: “Diana was an enormous force for good during a large part of my life. She was strict and independent and full of judgment which she was prepared to defend at any age. Quite often when we were small her words were so big I would have to look them up afterwards. When she got bigger her words got smaller and fewer and quicker and ambiguity was seldom an issue.”

Diana left us so many good memories. Not just in our minds but her numerous travel features have left a precious legacy for her son. Her humorous observations made her a popular choice of travel writer for the NZ Listener, the Herald, Woman’s Weekly and many others, and she had almost completed an updated version of the Frommer NZ guide book, covering the North Island.

In recent times she had the opportunity to take Dave with her and Derek on a trip to Vanuatu. It was a trip that incorporated three of her loves: family, travel and wildlife conservation. The last line of her article wishes the turtles a long life. If only she could have had the same.

Rest in Paradise somewhere Diana, as I think resting in peace may be too dull for you. We promise to muster a lunch group together each year in your memory. And when I take up my desk at the Listener on September 28, if you wouldn’t mind transmitting me a few of your well-chosen words, I promise to use them well.


Education fund for David Balham at Give a Little

NZ Forest & Bird

Ark in the Park

Matuku Forest & Bird reserve in West Auckland.

Cancer Society – to remember both Diana and her special mum Helen

  • It is the wish of Diana’s family for her service to be private. But please raise a glass or take a moment for Diana at 3pm Saturday, September 12.
    Some of her friends are thinking of organising our own memorial for her later in the year to remember our friend, fellow musician and old school mate in our own special way. 

Nostalgic times

So, let me get something clear. I am not in the demographic for Jim Sutton’s Nostalgia show on Newstalk ZB Saturday nights. For that matter, neither is my husband, on paper anyway. But if he’s working on the computer on a Saturday night (party animal I know) or is having an early night, he enjoys listening to the show.

He tells me it’s largely for the stories, but also for the history, the musical history and because Sutton plays songs his parents liked. In a funny way, it’s nostalgic for him too.

So having heard Jim Sutton say last Saturday night, during his final show, that he was essentially being forced from the airwaves after 24 years, I felt sad for him, for people who like a bit of musical history, and more importantly for the older generation.

I’ve always had visions of old people in rest homes listening to Sutton, or old people living at home alone tuning in on Saturday nights for a bit of solo reminiscing. Sutton’s assuring voice, his musical knowledge, his warmth with his talkback callers were all attributes they felt comfortable with. They are the type of people who write letters requesting their favourite songs – songs of the 50s, wartime songs, songs we don’t hear on any other radio programme.

They aren’t the type who will start up a Facebook petition to “Save Jim Sutton’s Nostalgia”. At a push some might send an email to express their disappointment it’s gone. Many will write the old-fashioned way, and chances are it will be a stamp wasted.

So while I didn’t really listen to Jim – I was more likely to catch a few minutes if it happened to be on ZB in the car on the way home from somewhere – I appreciate he provided a service to a particular demographic, and to people like my husband who just like to know as much as they can about music history.

However I am in the demographic for truth. I don’t think that’s age-specific. I posted on Twitter that I was sad to see ZB was “getting rid of” Jim Sutton. And so the @zbeditor responded: “we’re not ‘getting rid of it’, Jim’s retiring!” (with a cheerful little exclamation mark to put me in my place). The thing is, that’s not what I’d heard him say on the radio. I scouted around ZB’s site to see if there was a goodbye to Jim or anything. Nothing I could see. So I checked Facebook to see if anyone was disappointed about this “decision to retire”. Of course there were.

Sarah Perkins wrote: “My parents are both really disappointed that Jim Sutton’s show will not air after this evening. His show is a gem and the decision for it to be taken off air has created a great loss for the country.”

That drew this response from NewsTalk ZB’s FB moderator: “Hi Sarah. Thank you for your comments towards the Nostalgia Programme with Jim Sutton. After 24 years, Jim Sutton is retiring from hosting Nostalgia on Saturday and Sunday evening. Jim is a long-term, loyal servant of the station and has anchored Nostalgia with pride. This type of decision is never taken lightly, nor without realising the possible consequences, but it is backed up by a considerable amount of research and deliberation.
From April 19, we’ll have a new “music and memories” style talkback programme called “In My Day” between 6pm and midnight every Saturday, hosted by Bruce Russell. We believe the new programme will also find a place in the hearts and minds of an extended audience without disenfranchising the audience who have been so loyal to Jim.”

Hmmm, so Jim retiring, but it was “backed up by a considerable amount of research and deliberation”. Whose? His? It was “a decision not taken lightly”, but Twitter ZB had told me “Jim’s retiring!”

Rat. Smell.

Vicki Craig wrote on ZB’s FB wall: (all sic) “Am disgusted that the powers that be are taking Jim Suttons programe off!! Shame on you for taking something off that is so popular with many age groups. I think ZB will lose many a loyal listener through this. We heard on air that it was a forced retirement as the powers that be were just pulling his show. Still not happy and wont be listening to the saturdaynight show even though I like Bruce alot. It wont be the same and it should have been a case of if it wasnt broken then it should have been left alone.”

Which drew the shorter reply from ZB: “Hi Vicki. After 24 years, Jim Sutton is retiring from hosting Nostalgia on Saturday and Sunday evening. Jim is a long-term, loyal servant of the station and has anchored Nostalgia with pride. From April 19, we’ll have a new “music and memories” style talkback programme called “In My Day” between 6pm and midnight every Saturday, hosted by Bruce Russell.”

No mention of any “decision being taken lightly” in this edited response.

Chris Bennett posted to Facebook and made a point about the people who actually listen to radio on Saturday nights: “Jim Sutton IS Saturday and Sunday nights catering to an audience that still listens to the Radio and you are trying to capture a younger audience? Have you done your market research ?”

And so came the copy and paste response. “Hi Chris. After 24 years, Jim Sutton is retiring from hosting Nostalgia on Saturday and Sunday evening. Jim is a long-term, loyal servant of the station and has anchored Nostalgia with pride. From April 19, we’ll have a new “music and memories” style talkback programme called “In My Day” between 6pm and midnight every Saturday, hosted by Bruce Russell.”

The same ZB response was posted over and over (without the decision taken lightly bit).

Which naturally irritated people when they felt the explanation wasn’t true.

Pamela Kerr wrote: “Seems like all you guys at Newstalk can do is post the same message over and over. I myself didn’t tune in to Jim much but when I did I enjoyed the songs and banter. You are saying that Jim is “retiring” but in fact if you were honest with your irate listeners, Jim is being forced to “retire”. Tell the truth why don’t you – at least give your listeners that! I think you should change your posting to “Jim Sutton is being made redundant”.

Oh – and by the way – as much as I love Bruce Russell (my favourite talkback host) I definitely will not bother to tune in. They won’t have the nostalgia of the war years and fifties that Jim had.”

Delma Pike added: “This is the same crap ZB told me in an email. He never retired, they put his show off!! They’ll regret it!!! I hope he goes to another station, would serve them right. No need to lie about what they have done.”

I agree with Pamela and Delma on this issue of truth. Truth is easier because it means you don’t end up looking silly by saying two different things to different people.  Telling the truth means you are treating your audience with respect. They might not have liked it but “We decided it was time for a change” is at least being up-front about what was likely a business decision.

I’ve worked with people who were well past their prime but were kept on because they were untouchable. Maybe Sutton was really annoying to work with? Maybe he was a pain as an employee? But having worked in TV, some of the best broadcasters are a pain – but they turn it on when it counts, on air. They are performers.

I don’t know if Lionel Mandrake even knows Sutton but he wrote on Facebook (sic): “Oh yeah? We know the truth, Jim was a renegade who refused to be tamed, a wildman who was too hot for ZB bosses to handle…’Nostalgia’ was fostering a generation of Grey Power rebels with its high-octane blend of 1930s torch songs and singalong favourites…and at the centre of it all was Jim, one part guru, one part easy listening lounge lizard, dancing a dangerous polka while the Wurlitzer played on. The king is gone, but he’s not forgotten. This is the story of Jimmy Sutton…”

Goodness, who knew? (And if I had, I might have listened occasionally). So maybe Sutton was a grumpy ol’ buggar who just didn’t like being told what to do by a 25-year-old marketing graduate. Who does.

So what’s it all about? I appreciate that times change. And I rate Bruce Russell as a host apart from one rank comment about broadcaster Ali Mau.

But apparently his show will be called “In My Day” and feature “70s music”.  What? Because there aren’t enough shows, nay whole stations featuring 70s music! (My turn for an exclamation mark now.) It’s laughable to think they will think they’re going to attract younger people ie 30s/40s because they’re usually out and about or dead with exhaustion with children. Who will actually listen to a show about such music – you can get that on The Sound, Classic Hits, Coast, The Breeze, Hauraki to name a handful. And who will listen to the “memories” of that time. The 70s? Hardly a shit-kicking era of social change, and historical significance bar the Vietnam War.

No offence to Russell but was he even born by then? And again, no offence intended to Russell but “In My Day”? What, you mean like yesterday?

John Maffey on Facebook makes a good point that Nostalgia catered for the music interests of listeners largely ignored by mass commercial radio.

 Problem is, NewsTalk ZB is commercial radio so perhaps it’s made a business decision based on future-proofing its business. Which is hard to do if you are happy to cut off the old faithful. People who call talkback radio are largely older too. Would ZB consider killing its talkback format too? Unlikely. But I would have thought straight talkback was a far more risky format in radio that a specialist interest programme that’s gained a loyal following.

Take Kerre McIvor’s show and her popularity. Again, if I’m driving I’ll often have it on the radio. She’s entertaining and it can be interesting. But the minute some rambling halfwit comes on and she doesn’t ditch the person early enough (perhaps there aren’t enough calls on the board at the time) I change the station. I can’t stand it. It’s such a bizarre concept really – that you allow people of the narrowest of minds or most limited mental capacity to have their time on the airwaves of a commercial station for which ratings are the lifeblood.

On the other hand, if you have a “themed” show like Jim Sutton’s was, at least you can space out the crazies with interesting info, music and social history.  Which makes this decision all the more mysterious. It had people who had stories to tell. As Evelyn Jarvis Osborne wrote, again on Facebook, the social media equivalent of talkback radio: “The music wasn’t why I tuned in, it was the stories… The people that ARE the stories are losing so much more”.

It’s coming up to Anzac Day, which was a special programme Sutton always enjoyed putting out so it’s a rather cruel irony he won’t get to do it this year. (Perhaps it would have been nice if he could have done that as his last show.) Anyway, Anzac Day is traditionally the day we drag ourselves out of bed at an ungodly hour and head to dawn services to stand alongside men and women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. We may sing old songs. We will reflect on a time when young men and women scarcely old enough to breed were thrown into wars  and expected to give up their lives if need be. Through the day, young people may learn something about those people, the history of war, and New Zealand history. We dedicate our older generation one day a year when we think about them.

But we can’t afford to give them one radio programme a week. Kind of sad really.

(Listen to Jim Sutton’s last sign-off through the link on Dannews’ page. )

Cheers to Jesse Ryder, jeers to the backstory

On the day the news broke that Jesse Ryder was in a coma after being beaten up by some moronic thugs, I headed straight to online news sites to see what had happened. Initially there were just a few paragraphs up, as you might expect, while the writers waited for more info. Within 30 minutes there were a couple more lines of the actual “news” and then I saw that at least three online stories had added to the story with what I’d call “holding filler” were I doing the job myself.

But the filler they used infuriated me. At one stage more than half of each article was about Jesse Ryder’s drinking past. What? Had he beaten himself up? At that point, why was it even mentioned? The guy was lying in a coma in hospital – no one knew if he would live or die – and they were filling us in on his well-documented battle with alcohol.

I read between the lines for clues that he had started the fight, thrown the first punch, whatever, any justification for the backstory.  There were none. Even at that point it seemed the newsrooms knew it was unprovoked. And it was life and death serious. So was it necessary to mention his past in such a way as though it had some kind of relevance to the situation he now found himself in – in an induced coma in intensive care in Christchurch hospital?

It was no better on the TV news later in the evening. Again they brought up all his past as though it was in some way relevant.

Did they bring up the work he did with Billy Graham’s troubled youth? Did they talk about the young boy with cancer who he’s been a driving force with fundraising for? The kids he’s helped in cricket? No. Yes that stuff is coming out now, but it wasn’t used then.

The interesting thing about the assault on Jesse is that more than likely he could have “dropped” those attackers. He’s a big man, strong and fast on his feet. But because of his public profile and “checkered past” he didn’t. If he had, imagine the outcry! I don’t mind admitting there’s a part of me that wishes he’d had some kind of minder who could have done the job for him.

It also made me think about learning experiences and second chances. Our kids do things that are wrong – we hope they learn from them and don’t repeat them. It seems Jesse has been moving in the right direction with his life, but still that isn’t good enough.

When told about the attack initially, my teenage son said “I hope he wasn’t drinking”. Well yes, we all hope that but it’s not at all relevant to this situation unless it was Jesse himself who committed the assault.

I would hope that at the end of the cricket season – which it was – the Firebirds and Jesse would be able to go to a restaurant, have a meal and a drink, and not have some cretins confront and then attack one of them. That Jesse might have had a beer is neither here nor there. None of us knows where he is with that. It’s not the story.

But I do know if I was attacked to within an inch of my life on the street, people wouldn’t bring up any of the bad things I’ve done in the past to fill out their copy. I’m not famous. But are we so immune to the horror of what happened that we don’t think that’s enough of a story in itself?

As I write this, Jesse Ryder has just awoken from his induced coma and is talking. Apparently he doesn’t remember the attack. But I hope he does remember the people who backed his recovery 100 per cent as a person – with all the frailties humanity is renowned for – because none of us is perfect. I’m pretty sure perfection isn’t even required to be a human, not even if you are a brilliant cricketer. And just because you have a personality flaw or two – um, who doesn’t – doesn’t mean you deserve a kick in the head and a violent pummelling.

“At one stage more than half of each article was about Jesse Ryder’s drinking past. What? Had he beaten himself up?”


Pic by Photosport.

Auckland Transport: Ripping you off. ‘It’s in our terms and conditions’

Mark* (not his real name, but he’s a real person) has recently moved to Auckland and has been “in between jobs” as they say, for some time.

He came here for a fresh start. He was a big user of public transport in Wellington and transferred the same preference for travel to Auckland.

Anyway, Mark managed to get a part-time job. It’s a start, he was excited, and he investigated the cheapest way to get around for someone who likes to travel to work and all over Auckland on what he calls his “tiki tours”. He goes to lots of markets and likes to sightsee this way. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s his. It certainly wouldn’t be mine. I’d rather die.

Anyway, the best option turned out to be the monthly pass by Auckland Transport.

After a couple of weeks on the job he had saved up the $250 required for a monthly pass, plus the money for the actual card plus the “discretionary balance” required of about $30.

It was a lot of money but for someone on a budget it worked out best. It meant unlimited travel on buses all over Auckland.

Or so he thought.

In that first week of travel, he noticed money was being taken from his card whenever he used the card on the green inner city bus, going Customs Street to Victoria Street. It would take $1.60 off the card each trip. But if he did the trip in reverse, it took nothing.

As he had paid for a monthly pass, he knew it shouldn’t be dipping into his discretionary money on the card so he went to see Auckland Transport at Britomart. Mark doesn’t like to communicate much online. He’s a bit old-fashioned.

They asked if he had registered the card online. He hadn’t as he didn’t like the idea that bus drivers and all agents for HOP cards can look up and see where you travel to and from to. He doesn’t do anything wrong, he just doesn’t think that’s right.

He was once shown by a bus driver what they could see. “What if I was a young lady,” he said. “All the dairy owners and agents can see my patterns of travel too, that doesn’t seem right to me.”

Generally Mark’s at home in the evenings watching telly, but it’s the principle so he doesn’t want to register his card online. Besides, he’s a people person, he’d rather go into the agency and top up when he needed to, and have a bit of a chin-wag and come home and say he’d met a friend.

Anyway, the AT office told him that because he has not registered his card online they cannot refund him the money due. They concede he was incorrectly charged the inner city fares but there was “nothing they could do to help”.

Why not? If he was topping up his card with cash, that would be fine without registering but if they owe him, they can’t return it? Even as an electronic transfer to the card?

No, not if you aren’t registered online.

Mark was annoyed but decided he just wouldn’t catch that bus in the future. He didn’t really know what to do. It was a matter of $1.60 here and there. About $5 all up. Best move on. Wasn’t going to break the bank. He’s a reasonable man.

Almost three weeks into using his monthly pass, things were going fine. Until Thursday September 3 when he got a red light when boarding the bus, telling him he could not use his card. This was despite the fact the monthly pass was not due to expire until Friday September 12.

The bus driver told him to try the next bus “because there have been some problems with the monthly cards”.

So he tried the next bus and it was the same story. So as he was near Britomart he popped in and asked the lady there what was wrong with his card.

“It’s been blocked as you haven’t always been tagging off”.

Tagging off – that is swiping your card past the reader as you leave the bus.

Mark can only recall two or three times when he hasn’t tagged off. He catches a lot of buses. They all end up back at the same place though, in Birkenhead at the end of the day.

At any rate, when he first bought the monthly bus pass  he was told two different things. 1. that as it was monthly pass, the only thing that would happen if he didn’t tag off would be the fine through his discretionary balance.

and 2. He didn’t have to tag off. Just tag on the first time to activate the card.

So he looked it up online to be sure and that’s what the terms and conditions seem to say too.

37 Period passes, monthly passes


A Period Pass is activated by “tagging on” and expires when the

specified number of days from the day of activation has elapsed.

There is absolutely nothing in the terms and conditions to say you have to tag on and off with a monthly pass. Mark had made a habit of doing it regardless, just in case.

 Mark asked the operator the number of times he hadn’t tagged off and why did it matter if he’d paid $250 for a month anyway?

 “Eight times in three weeks,” she said.

 This meant his card was now blocked. Not only that but they would be keeping the discretionary $30 he had on the card PLUS about $70 left of travel he had left until September 12.

 He arrived home, having paid cash for his fare, demoralised. He could barely afford the card in the first place and now this.

 “Call them,” I said. “They can’t just take your money. You’ve paid for a month of travel!

 He calls them. “What exactly have I done wrong?” he asks.

“It’s fare evasion.”

“But how can it be fare evasion when I have already paid you until September 12?”

“It’s in our terms and conditions.”

“But this is double jeopardy. You’ve fined me the fares for not tagging off, even though I thought I had anyway, AND you have taken my other money as well. How can you do that?”

“It’s in our terms and conditions.”

 It isn’t that we can see.

There’s this: 12.1 We may retain, cancel, or suspend any AT HOP card or the System or any of our services at any time without specifying the reasons, but we will endeavour to minimise any inconvenience caused to you.

 What? How is that fair?

 Mark has read that AT are currently having problems with people catching trains and not paying for their ride at all. Supposedly they can be fined $20. Problem is, AT can’t catch the people and it’s not 100 per cent clear the fine is legal.

“But I have paid for a month’s worth of travel and because I haven’t tagged off, they can just take all my money because I did the right thing and paid and they can? They say I am an evader… how can I be an evader when I have paid for the service upfront?”

How indeed. I’d love someone to answer us that question.

Tomorrow Mark will pay $10 return to get to work and back to his new part-time job. That will be the same every day till next Friday when his pass was due to end. That’s an extra $70 he will now have to pay – without going anywhere else apart from work.

He was really looking forward to the markets again this weekend. But there will be no tiki-touring. No sight-seeing.

His wages this week will now barely cover what he has spent on transport, given that he’s having to pay twice.

How is that fair Auckland Transport? How? Is it any wonder people like me HATE your public transport and all it represents?

I want to tell Mark that it will be ok, surely it can be sorted out. But I know Auckland Transport. They’re not in this business for the people.

On reaching a milestone

In cricket it’s simple – it’s a milestone to be celebrated. You get 50. You hold your bat up. You smile, shake your fellow batsman’s hand and look to go on. It’s a celebration. You’ve no doubt worked pretty hard to get there, and may have got a bit lucky on the way. You don’t […]


A month or so ago we a received a pamphlet telling us our local bus service – Birkenhead Transport – would be ceasing the use of 10-trip bus tickets and entering the modern era by becoming part of Auckland Transport’s ATHop card system. With the ATHop, you buy a card, load it up with money and top it up “easily” online when it gets low.

I thought ‘great, no last minute car trips to get a bus ticket the day before school’, or rummaging for coins to catch the bus. Two of our family catch the bus – the teenager catches it to and from school if he can’t cadge a lift with a mate; and the husband catches it to the university every day, and home. Life would be so much simpler. Or so I thought.

We bought two cards, $5 each during a special period, thereafter $10, and topped them both up. I noticed 25c was deducted for topping up each which seems a bit ridiculous but nothing to lose sleep over I guess; it just means you should top up for a lot to reduce the “service charge”.

You then go to the website to register the cards but as the website was a bit confused over the fact we had two cards, I called AT and got a very helpful chap who linked the family’s two cards on the one account so now we can log in and see both in the same area.

That is where our happiness ends.

The amount on both cards was quickly reduced so I logged into at 9.30am on Monday July 29 and topped up the husband’s card. It warned me that it “could take up to 72 hours” to show the balance. It seemed an awfully long time so I also set up an auto-top on his card so that if it ever fell below $10 it would top up by $40 (forward planning I thought). I did both transactions on the morning of July 29. I also assumed the 72 hour thing was like a “best before date” where you are given the worst case scenario so that if the supplier does anything better you are truly grateful.

The next morning, Tuesday, I logged into the website, or tried to – the site was down. So we didn’t know if he could use it or not so he paid cash.
The next morning, Wednesday, I logged into the website, or tried to – the site was down again. Refreshed screen in case it was a hangover from the day before, no joy. Tried again 30 minutes later and got in. The money deposited was still not showing. By now 48 hours had passed.
Thursday came – logged in and the funds still weren’t showing. It was approaching the 72 hour mark now and the coins jar was empty. Rummaged around for some and husband tottered off on the bus, paying cash not ATHop card.

I decided to call the  ATHop people. I know it’s not the people on the end of the phone’s fault, but I wanted to to tell them it had been almost 72 hours and still no funds on the card.

Pleasant woman, repeated the same line over and over. “With the ATHop card it can take 72 hours. It does say that on the website”.
“Yes I know, but it’s ridiculous! Where does the money go?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “That’s just how long it can take with the ATHop card, 72 hours.”
She asked me if I was logged in to the site now which I was. “Does it say pending transactions?” Yes it does I said. The transaction is showing the deposit occurred on the 29th but that’s not reflected in the balance and it’s now August 1.
“Yes, well with the ATHop card it can take 72 hours.”
Yes, yes it can. I think I got that.
Then she remembered something.
“Well the amount on the card won’t show online until you use the card on the bus.”

“You have to tag on and once you have used the card it will then show you your balance the next time you log into the website.”
“So you have to go through the embarrassment of the card maybe not working on the bus to find out?” I asked.

(I know my husband HATES things like that, he’s not the type to brazen out a declined eftpos with a “oh the wife must have been shopping” like I’ve heard others do.
“Well you should make sure you have some cash with you,”she said helpfully.

Ah, yes, cash, 45c more a trip than the ATHop card.

So I texted him this evening to tell him to try it on the way home. As by now it has been 78 hours, there’s a chance it could work I say, adding he should of course “have some cash on him”.

He tries it  and gets the Wehhh-Worrrr sound of rejection from the bus card reader. It’s loud, it’s embarrassing and he doesn’t like it. He pays cash and does the walk of shame to the back of the bus, slinking as best a 6″4 man can do.

But wait! He isn’t alone.
He hears at least two more people get on after him, and getting the Weh-Woor beep. One passenger loudly proclaims in anger “But I topped it up MORE than 72 hours ago, this is ridiculous!”

Yes it is ridiculous. Let me tell you the reasons why.

* how in 2013 can either of those electronic transactions take 72 hours, either the credit card or the direct debit from our bank account (which I am now fearful about, who knows how much they will take and when?)
* I can pay an online store in Hong Kong and have my parcel sent the same day and it arrive in four days.
* When I transfer funds to any other account, I expect to see them show up online the next day and not to have to buy something to be able to see my balance! Banks make transfers on the hour these days.
* I am paying 25c to top up each time.
* The website is unstable. Half the time you can’t get in. It’s even worse on ipad. You log in and EVERY time it logs you out and makes you do it again. When you do get in on a PC, 1/4 of the time you can’t see your balance. AND the error message spells “occurred” incorrectly as “occured”. There’s no cure in this I can assure you.
* There is no explanation as to WHY it takes so long or why my money goes into a vacuum.
* The temptation is to load up the card with funds so you don’t have to load it and wait… but that’s not so smart. If it takes 72 hours to see money appear on it, how long would it take to cancel it?

So much as I hate to admit it, the teenager is right this time. Best to bludge a ride with a mate rather than catch a bus. It’s just too hard.

photo1 photo2 photo3

Poor planning

I call Auckland Council at 3pm, May 23, and ask to get put through to the planning department. I get told to call back at 3.30pm because the planning person is away from their desk at moment. She helpfully gives me a 5 digit extension number to call back and to dial directly from the main extension. The number is 43810 and that will put me through to  North Shore planning, which is the department I need.

All I actually want to know is what zone our house sits in, because the zone on our document is from 1992 and that kind of zone doesn’t actually exist any more. There’s nothing to correlate the old zone name and the new one on the council website either.

I call back at 3.40pm giving them a little extra time. But the main line tells me extensions are 6 digits not 5 and I only have five. I try it and it doesn’t work.

So I call the main line again. I ask to get put through to planning and ask if I can have the extension number of the North Shore planning department.

“We can’t give out the extension number,” a different woman says.

“But at 3pm someone gave me the extension number, it’s just that it’s one digit short,” I say, thinking that maybe I had written it down incorrectly.

“Well we aren’t meant to. I can’t say why that happened before. Anyway no one is there in the planning department at the moment. I could send them an email for you.”

I fail to see how someone who isn’t there can receive the email but I go with it.

“The lady told me to call back at 3.30pm. So I am, is anyone going to be there today?” I ask.

“I don’t know when they will be back. I can email them and get them to call you.”

“It’s ok, I will email them directly,” I say, wanting to take control now. “What’s the name of the person and their email address please,” I ask.

“The person’s name is Sirrin Power,” she says.

“Can you spell that please?”

“C-I-A-R-A-N and it’s” she says.

I admit to stifling a snigger. Perhaps I didn’t quite stifle it.

“Oh so you mean Ciaran! As in Kerren not Sirrin,” I say helpfully.


I say:  “Is there really just one person in the whole of the North Shore part of the planning department?”

“Yes, we’re short-staffed today.”

Ok thanks.

I’m feeling quite sorry for Sirrin by now. There’s a few hundred thousand people living on the North Shore.

And if the government is going to make it easier for people to get resource consent applications done for building in Auckland, somehow I don’t like Sirrin’s chances of coping with the workload. Maybe he should get a better receptionist too.


FOOTNOTE: 4.50pm the same day. Ciaran called me! Amazingly helpful. Accent to fall in love with. Sending me all the info via email. I commiserated about the short-staffedness and laughed about the Sirrin with him. Can’t complain about all that then. And it gave me a laugh for the day.