Thursday, May 31, 2012


After a certain amount of intrigue, the first half hour of last Saturday's launch party for the Oceania issue of brief has turned up online.

Once that podgy bloke with the attempted comb-over has raved about Epeli Hau'ofa's essay 'Our Sea of Islands' and pretended to swat flies with his copy of brief, Michael Horowitz cracks a couple of inscrutable jokes and reads from his new novel DownMind, Murray Edmond recites his classic poem 'Von Tempsky's Dance', and Niulala Helu's kava band grooves for a few short minutes. (Why was the mystery cameraman, who was prepared to put up with that podgy bloke's long-winded introduction to the evening, so quick to abandon Niulala and his bandmates, when they were making such a beautiful sound?)

A couple of weeks before the launch I had suggested that some of the bibliophiles who contribute to brief might consider gifting a few of their surplus books to the small and struggling library of Tonga's 'Atenisi University. Last Saturday 'Atenisi Director Sisi'uno Helu was delighted by the sight of punters hauling box after sagging cardboard box up the stairs of the Onehunga Workingman's Club. By the end of the evening two hundred and sixty-one volumes were ready to be transported to my place, where they're now waiting  to be reboxed and shipped north to Nuku'alofa. Several book-lovers who couldn't make the launch have promised to stop by and add to the hoard in my living room.
This afternoon I combined baby-minding duties with a survey of the books bound for 'Atenisi. As I unloaded box after box, piling up everything from Michael Crichton novels to social science textbooks to poetry anthologies to cookbooks, Aneirin began to feel rather encircled.
Two of Richard Taylor's donations to 'Atenisi's word-hoard deserve special mention. Dennis Wheatley's The Satanist is one of a series of novels which inspired the cult Hammer Horror film The Devil Rides Out. The fly-leaf to The Satanist announces that Wheatley regards 'Black Magic' as a thing 'too dangerous to dabble in', and claims that his book is designed to 'disclose to the public' the 'full horror of Satanism' and its 'menace to the innocently curious'. Such protests look rather disingenuous, though, when set beside long, luridly detailed descriptions of nubile maidens cavorting with horned Gods during occult rites held in church vaults or forest clearings.
Richard chose to complement The Satanist with a very well-worn collection of the writings of the Marquis De Sade. 'Atenisi's legendary founder Futa Helu loved to confront and provoke his more conservative countrymen, so he might well relish the possibility that one or two of the clergymen of Tongatapu will eventually get their hands on such theological classics as The Satanist and De Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom.

Aneirin eventually picked a favourite of his own from the 'Atenisi-bound stash.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kava, squid rings, and tall but true tales

According to that noble garnering of human knowledge, the Urban Dictionary website, an event which isn't recorded by copious photographs didn't really happen.

I'm going to have to insist that the Oceania issue of brief was launched at the Onehunga Workingman's Club  last Saturday night, despite having a paucity of images to support my claim. If their memories aren't too badly affected by a very strong batch of Tongan kava, then the forty-odd punters who turned out for the event should back me up.

I thought I had the documentation of the launch party organised, but the estimable Jack and Bronwyn, who were going to supply high-quality photos, succumbed to the flu on Saturday, and Paul Janman, who was supposed to shoot some moving images, got mobbed by guests enquiring after tickets to his festival-bound film Tongan Ark, and Skyler, who was carrying a modest camera in her handbag, was often busy attending to the whims of our three month old baby.

(I did notice a duffelcoated figure in a dim corner of the Workingman Club's functions room wielding that absurd artefact of the pre-digital era, a Super 8 mini movie camera. If you have any footage, comrade, I'd be grateful for a look, even if you were working for some sinister force, like the dissident, irredentist Alan Loney faction of the brief literary tradition. Slap your work on youtube for us to see!)

Skyler did manage to snap a rather fetching image of Michael Horowitz, the sociologist and novelist who is a former Director of Tonga's 'Atenisi University and current chancellor of its fledgling Vava'u Academy, showing off his new tala'ofa to the guests at the Workingman's Club. Along with Sisi'uno Helu, the current Director of 'Atenisi and daughter of the institution's legendary founder Futa Helu, Horowitz flew down from Nuku'alofa especially for the launch of the Oceania issue of brief. Horowitz's speech at last Saturday night's party celebrated the fact that brief has opened its doors to writers and thinkers from the 'Atenisian tradition, and to other intellectuals from the tropical Pacific.

Murray Edmond's forty year career as a poet, playwright, and critic may make him one of the grand old men of New Zealand literature, but he still has more energy, more imagination, and a lot more hair than writers decades younger than him. As Murray followed Horowitz into the spotlight and recited his classic poem 'Von Tempsky's Dance' I gazed enviously at his fine ungreying mane. In an essay published in the new issue of brief, Murray explains that 'Von Tempsky's Dance' was inspired by the visions of New Zealand and Pacific history he had as a young man living amongst revolutionary students and drugged-up Jimi Hendrix lookalikes in a grotty Grafton flat in the early 1970s.

As Horowitz and Edmond addressed the audience, the band led by Futa Helu's son Niulala was tuning up the guitars and pouring out the kava. Niulala is an expert on Tongan dance and song, and his band performs on a weekly basis at kava circles around Auckland. When the music began some of the audience headed for the kava bowl at Niualala's feet, while others wandered over to a corner of the room, where fragments of Janman's Tongan Ark were playing on a large screen.

I kept an eye on the staircase which connected the kitchen of the Workingman's Club with its function rooms, and pounced when a couple of blokes in white emerged bearing huge plates of squid rings and sausage rolls. As I poured tomato sauce furiously onto my plate I noticed Hugh Laracy, Emeritus Professor of Pacific History at the University of Auckland, standing beside me at the serving table and harvesting a few of the squid I had left behind. Laracy was a longtime friend of Kendrick Smithyman, and in the 1970s he and the great poet were part of a loose circle which shared the excitement of exploring Kiwi and Pacific history.

People who knew Smithyman describe him as an indefatigable storyteller with a taste for strange anecdotes, and Hugh Laracy seemed to have the same qualities. After I'd told him I'd spent some time on the high  island of 'Eua, Laracy launched into the story of a Canterbury sheepfarmer who moved his three thousand stock north to 'Eua near the end of the nineteenth century. After Tonga's King George the second tried to tax the earnings he was making on his herd, the farmer apparently went out to his pasture with his dogs, mustered his sheep, and drove all of the unfortunate animals over a cliff into the deep and wild waters around the island. As Hugh Laracy told one tall and true tale after another, I was reminded of a book reviewer's description of the nonagenarian British historian Eric Hobsbawm as 'a walking research library'.

Later in the evening I chatted with Sefita Hao'uli, another man with an arsenal of fascinating stories. Hao'uli grew up on Foa, the home island of Futa Helu in Tonga's isolated Ha'apai archipelago, before following Futa to boarding school in Nuku'alofa. He remembers Helu as a young nonconformist, who baffled and intrigued his countrymen by quoting Heraclitus and Plato at kava circles, and by talking about the necessity of critical thinking and ruthless criticism to a healthy society.

Hao'uli returns regularly to Foa, and I asked him about the petroglyphs which were discovered on the island late in 2008, after a storm ripped tonnes of sand off one of its beaches and left ancient stone exposed. With their simple forms and fluid lines, the Foa carvings resemble the art of eastern Polynesian societies like Rapa Nui and Rekohu rather than the western Polynesian aesthetic of Tonga. Archaeologist David Burley, who has been excavating Tongan beaches, fields, and forests for decades, hurried to view the petroglyphs, and decided that they were probably made by Hawaiian sojourners on Foa, and were thus evidence of ancient contacts between distant parts of Polynesia.
Sefita Hao'uli wasn't sure whether he accepted Burley's findings, but for many people the Foa petroglyphs have confirmed the suspicion that Polynesia was less a series of societies isolated from one another by vast stretches of water than a complex, interdependent supersociety, whose inhabitants treated the ocean as their highway. Such a vision of the past has political implications today. As Epeli Hau'ofa said in 'Our Sea of Islands', an essay I quoted in my introduction to the new issue of brief:

It should be clear now that the world of Oceania is neither tiny nor deficient in resources. It was only so as a result of a history of colonial confinement that lasted only a hundred of a history of thousands of years...Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding...

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Footnote: I forgot to mention the collection of books for 'Atenisi which took place at last Saturday's launch. I'll post about the results of our book drive later: right now, baby duties call!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Louis Crimp: the face in our mirrors

In one of the journals he kept during his long battle against alcoholism, depression, and self-hatred, John Cheever described walking into a bar and ordering a whiskey. As he waited for his drink, Cheever noticed a face in the large mirror that hung behind the bartender. A man with scarred, luminously pale skin stared at him with small cold eyes. Cheever stared back at the hideous apparition, and wondered whether he should find another place to get drunk. After a few moments, though, he realised that he was staring at himself.

With his two appearances in the media over the past week, Louis Crimp has allowed Pakeha New Zealanders to look into a mirror. Many of us don't like what see.

The aged Crimp has a cadaverous face and a mouth that seems unnaturally small. He speaks slowly, with a slight lisp, and without the euphemisms and qualifications common to mainstream political discourse in New Zealand. In his interviews with the New Zealand Herald and TV3, Crimp has expressed his hatred of Maoridom, and his disappointment at the failure of the Act Party, to whom he gave one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars last year, to take the fight to 'the savages'.

Crimp's statements have been condemned by all of New Zealand's mainstream political parties, including Act, and by both left and right-leaning political pundits. But the criticisms of Crimp cannot disguise the fact that he expresses, in his acerbic, homespun way, the opinions of many Pakeha. Crimp is not, as some pundits have argued, a senile old fool, or a hopeless eccentric: he is the authentic face of Pakeha chauvinism. We can no more disown him than John Cheever could disown the face he saw in the mirror of that bar.

Talking to the Herald's David Fisher, Crimp denied that Maori were "real New Zealanders", and claimed that their culture consisted entirely of "waving their spears and poking their tongues out".

Crimp's bluntness may have discomfited many Pakeha, but his view that Maori culture is something pre-modern, and consists mostly of dancing and chanting by semi-naked men, is widely shared this country.

In the early nineteenth century New Zealand was used as a name for Maoridom, and Maori were the only people described as New Zealanders. After they had won control of these islands from Maori in the second half of the nineteenth century, though, Pakeha appropriated both 'New Zealand' and 'New Zealanders' for themselves. When Pakeha guidebooks and museums depicted Maori, they were treated as an archaic people, whose culture was alien to the modern New Zealand of dairy farms and railways. Such a view ignored the Maori adaption to modernity in the nineteenth century, which saw them building their own flour mills by the dozen in the Waikato and electrifying the town of Parihaka in the Taranaki, and creating new forms of art, like the painted Ringatu meeting houses of the East Coast, in response to influences from Europe and elsewhere.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Maori have continued to assimilate technological and cultural developments made elsewhere in the world. Writers like Hone Tuwhare, artists like Ralph Hotere, and scientists like Peter Buck have all fused modern ideas with a Maori worldview.

For too many Pakeha, though, Maori culture still consists of men in grass skirts waving taiaha and poking out their tongues. Louis Crimp's brutally reductionist view of Maoritanga is by no means marginal or eccentric.

In his interview with TV 3's Jane Luskin, Crimp attacked the Maori language as useless, and denied that it should receive state recognition or funding. For long decades, the Maori language was nearly competely absent from New Zealand schools, and from New Zealand public life. Asked to study in a second language, many Maori children did badly at school, and entered the workplace without skills. After a long campaign by activists and academics, Maori was made an official language of New Zealand in 1987, and state funding was made available for Maori-language primary and secondary education.

But these developments do not entitle Kiwis to feel smug, because the policies that led to Maori educational failure for much of the twentieth century are being inflicted in the twenty-first century on the speakers of this country's other Polynesian languages. The Leo Bilingual Pacific Language Coalition was founded in 2010 to protest the refusal of successive New Zealand governments to allow youth from the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, and Tonga to study at school in their own languages. In South and West Auckland, a new generation of Polynesian youth is struggling to learn an alien language. The co-founder of the Language Coalition, Judy McFall, says that Pacific Islanders are tired of having their language skills treated as "learning deficits" rather than "learning advantages". Louis Crimp might as well have authored government policies towards Pacific Islands languages.

Crimp displayed another venerable feature of Pakeha ideology when he complained, during his chat with Luskin, that the Maori language is unknown "out of New Zealand". Crimp seems unaware that languages closely related to Maori are spoken in more than a dozen Polynesian nations, and that more distantly related members of the same Austronesian language family are used everywhere from Vanuatu to central Vietnam.

Crimp's ignorance of the many relatives of Maori in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia is related to the geographical delusion which has been common amongst Pakeha since the nineteenth century. New Zealand sits deep in the South Pacific, at the other end of the world from Europe, but Pakeha have often tried to believe that we live on an island anchored comfortably off the coast of Britain. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century Pakeha talked of Britain as "home"; today we still act as though we live in the northern hemisphere, consuming British and American television programmes and movies, and taking our holidays in London and Disneyland rather than Nuku'alofa and Apia.

One of the more torturous responses to Crimp's statements has come from Chris Trotter, who has long struggled to reconcile his left-wing politics with his loyalty to North Otago, one of this country's whitest and most conservative regions. In a column for The Press called 'Telling the Majority "Where to Get Off", Trotter conceded that Crimp was 'a redneck', but argued that his views were shared by many New Zealanders, and suggested that this gave them a certain legitimacy.

Trotter noted that, in a recent referendum, the citizens of the Waikato District voted heavily against the creation of Maori seats on their local council. Trotter seems to consider this vote a triumph for democracy and universalism, and a setback for 'separatism'.

I've spent the last couple of days in the Waikato District, on a property close to Hukanui, one of the most ancient and important marae of the Tainui people. In the 1860s Hukanui was the home of  a man named Hakopa Te Waharoa. In 1864, after a Pakeha army had invaded the Waikato and pushed King Tawhiao and most of his supporters south into the sanctuary of the area known today as the King Country, Waharoa was asked by his countrymen to stay behind, and given an unenviable task. Over the next few years he exhumed scores of bodies from the slopes of Te Kopu Mania O Kirikiriroa, the sacred hill in the centre of the place known today as Hamilton, and reburied them semi-secretly in the country around Hukanui.
After capturing Hamilton, Pakeha knocked down the altar on the summit of Te Koopu Mania, tore up the taro plantation at the base of the hill, and let their sheep graze over an ancient Tainui graveyard. Eventually they would use shovels, picks and wheelbarrows to demolish the hill itself. The desecration and destruction of Te Koopu Mania offers one example of the ferocity with which the conquerors of the Waikato worked to erase the traces of their predecessors from the landscapes they had won by war.

Tawhiao led his people out of exile in 1881, after the signing of a peace deal, but they had to suffer a new type of isolation, as confiscations and discriminatory laws and practices made them into second-class citizens in their old homeland. Parliament banned Maori from practicing their own religion and from sitting as jurors on cases involving Pakeha, and many businesses in the Waikato refused to take customers with brown skins. As late as 1955 the lower Waikato town of Pukekohe was branded the 'Little Rock of New Zealand' by the Auckland Star, after the revelation that Maori were refused access to its pubs and its barber shops. In 1960 the American sociologist David Ausubel enraged Pakeha by publishing a book which compared regions like the Waikato to the segregationist southern states of his homeland.

 Maori responded to their exclusion from the mainstream of Waikato life by creating their own institutions. After his return from exile Tawhiao had founded a Maori parliament, a Maori bank, Maori police, and Maori courts. The King Movement persisted through the twentieth century, and in 1994 was given some measure of Pakeha recognition by the signing of the Tainui Treaty settlement.

In the recent referendum, Waikato voters rejected the notion of Maori seats on their local council by a margin of about four to one. A fifth of residents in the Waikato are Maori, and the overwhelming majority of them choose to vote on the Maori roll at general elections. It seems likely, then, that the recent referendum split the Waikato along ethnic lines, with Pakeha voters rejecting Maori seats and Maori voters favouring them.
Such a result is hardly surprising, when we remember that no Maori candidate has been able to get elected to the Waikato District Council for the last twenty years. A form of de facto political segreation exists in the Waikato, as the council caters to Pakeha interests, and the King Movement represents Maori. The King Movement's parliament and the District Council's offices stand close to one another in the central Waikato town of Ngaruawahia, but they might as well exist on different planets.

The history of the Waikato shows the absurdity of Chris Trotter's attempt to present the recent referendum as a contest between universalism and Maori 'separatism'. For a century and a half, the Maori of the Waikato have created their own institutions in response to the tyranny of the Pakeha majority which conquered and occupied their territory. The Pakeha of the Waikato do not vote against Maori seats on their council out of a commitment to universal human rights and democracy, but out of the same prejudices and obsessions which made their ancestors desecrate and destroy Te Koopu Mania o Kirikiriroa.

Like Louis Crimp, the recent referendum in the Waikato shows us the real face of Pakeha chauvinism. As John Cheever knew, a mirror doesn't lie.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Monday, May 21, 2012

Victims of laukovi

Sisi'uno Helu, the Director of Tonga's 'Atenisi Institute, and Michael Horowitz, the American novelist and sociologist who has worked for much of the last decade in Nuku'alofa, have both confirmed that they'll be flying down to Auckland for the launch of the Oceania issue of the Kiwi literary journal brief on Saturday the 26th of this month. Sisi'uno and Michael will be taking advantage of one of the almost daily Air New Zealand flights from Tongatapu's Fua'motu airport to the world's largest Polynesian city.

Palangi Kiwis are unromantic about the 737s and 747s which land at our airports in such numbers every day. We flock to events like Warbirds Over Wanaka to gaze at fragile Spitfires, but few of us, it seems, feel much reverence for the awkward-looking vehicles we give the rather unflattering nickname 'jumbo jets'.

For the late great Tongan intellectual Epeli Hau'ofa, though, the establishment of regular commercial air links between tropical Polynesia and the rest of the world by 737s and 747s in the 1970s and '80s was a cause for awe and celebration. In his seminal essay 'Our Sea of Islands', Hau'ofa argued that relatively cheap air travel was allowing Pacific peoples to overcome an isolation imposed by colonial powers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and to reestablish ancient connections with each other. In prose that has the power of an epiphany, Hau'ofa dissolves the boundaries between ancient and modern history, and presents the Polynesians who fly south or west to jobs in Australasia, and return at Christmas time burdened with gifts and homesickness, as the corollaries of the navigators and sailors who guided vaka over huge seas hundreds or thousands of years earlier, during the exploration and settlement of the Pacific.

Hau'ofa's compatriot 'Okusitino Mahina has also exulted over modern air travel. In his poem 'RTA the Airline', Mahina hails Royal Tongan Airlines, the company which competed in the Pacific with Qantas and Air New Zealand before going bust in 2004, in language that recalls the mighty past:

He kuo fakatuputupulangi
Ngahau oma 'o e Hala Pani
He sika 'ulutoa 'i he Vangai
Fetu 'u 'esiafi si 'ene ma 'ali
'O malama 'a e 'otu 'ailani...

Fluttering towards the heavens
Is the swift arrow of the Pine Way
Like javelin-throwing in Vangai
A shooting star flashes by
Lights up the isles in display...

Yet international travel has brought difficulties as well as rewards to Pacific peoples. Epeli Hau'ofa's optimistic vision of contemporary Oceania irked some of his fellow scholars, who felt that he had forgotten that poverty and restrictive immigration laws keep many inhabitants of the region isolated. In his book What Happens to History, Howard Marchitello explained that:

Some were quite taken aback by Hau'ofa's"romantic idealism". Here were arguments about the cultural autonomy of ordinary people, even mythopractical allusions that attributed their current freedom of movement to the legendary travels of mythical ancestors to the heavens above and the underworlds below, while seeming to ignore the this-worldly system of neo-colonial domination transmitted locally by comprador ruling classes and multinational corporations...

While the peculiarities of colonial history and modern politics give some Pacific peoples - the Niueans, the Cook Islanders, the Tokelauans, the American Samoans - easy access to the First World, many others find their way to opportunity obstructed. The Kiwi historian and former journalist Mark Derby has talked about travelling to Tonga in the late 1970s, and meeting young men who had decided to seal themselves inside the containers that were about to be loaded on ships at Nuku'alofa's port, in the hope that they might emerge days later in Auckland or Sydney. Some of the men Derby spoke to had made the hot, dark, dangerous journey as stowaways before, only to be arrested, a few weeks or months later, in one of the notorious 'dawn raids' the Muldoon government made on illegal migrants from the Pacific who hid in the slums of South Auckland. Today it remains difficult for Tongans to emigrate to New Zealand, unless they have a number of close family members living here. Hundreds of illegal immigrants are still deported from this country to the tropical Pacific every year.
In recent years Tongans deported from New Zealand, Australia, and the United States have begun to suffer stigmatisation and persecution in their homeland. Faced with a stalled economy, increases in violent crime, and determined political opposition, Tonga's elite has been happy to blame some of its problems on 'the deportees'. In November 2006, a march in favour of democracy and against the monarchy turned into a riot which destroyed half of downtown Nuku'alofa and killed nine people. Instead of trying to reflect seriously upon the reasons for this unprecedented cataclysm, Tonga's government and some of its media rushed to blame 'criminals' and 'gangsters' who had been corrupted by their time in First World nations like New Zealand then dumped back in Tonga to cause trouble. In neighbouring Samoa, deportees have also been given responsibility for all sorts of social ills.

In a guest editorial for the summer 2011/12 issue of Sites, the long-running New Zealand-based journal of sociology and cultural studies, Michael Horowitz argued that the widespread condemnation of deportees to Tonga and Samoa was unjustified. Accusing the deportees' detractors of 'laukovi', or malicious gossip, Horowitz presented data on repatriated Tongans collected over the last few years by the country's police force. The figures of the police show that the vast majority of the Tongans sent home from New Zealand, Australia, and the United States had not committed violent crimes in those countries, that between 2008 and 2010 only three deportees were convicted of crimes in Tonga, and that only three of the six hundred people convicted of rioting in 2006 were deportees.

Horowitz suggested that, far from being a young gangbanger bringing violence home from the West, the average Tongan deportee is 'a male between 30 and 50 years old, repatriated for immigration violations in either New Zealand or the United States'. Because of the impact of laukovi, repatriates often fail to gain secure employment after their return to Tonga, but they nevertheless avoid committing crimes.

Michael Horowitz's careful rebuke to the hysteria surrounding deportees does not discredit Epeli Hau'ofa's vision of the reopening of Oceania by dynamic Pacific Island migrants, but it does help to make us aware of the difficulties which many migrants face, even after the end of their journeys abroad. Horowitz will be talking about his research into Tongan society and his latest novel at the launch of brief next Saturday. Come along and have a drink with him.

The launch of brief 44-45 will be held at the Onehunga Workingman's Club, 158 Onehunga Mall, from four until seven o'clock on Saturday the 26th of May. 
[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Competing with Kathy

Book festivals will always be poor relations to gatherings of film and music lovers. It takes about ninety minutes to watch a film, and half an hour or so to see a band, but books can't be consumed at such speed. Where film buffs and music fans use their festivals to watch movies and sing along to bands, gatherings of bibliophiles are necessarily dominated by talk about books.
Authors are accustomed to working in the cluttered solitude of their studies, and to expressing themselves through a pen or a keyboard, but at a book festival they are forced onto a stage, handed a mike, and asked to become, for an hour or so at a time, raconteurs, comics, and lecturers. Because some of the best scribblers are indifferent talkers, and some wretched writers do a good stand-up act or give a good lecture, festivals tend to offer a somewhat distorted picture of the literary world.

When it offered its readers a guide to 'must-see sessions' of the Readers and Writers Festival last week, the New Zealand Herald predicted that the 'firecracker wit and brash personality' of Kathy Lette would make her appearance memorable. The Herald neglected to mention that Lette's new novel The Boy who Fell to Earth has underwhelmed many reviewers. The Independent's Nicholas Tucker, for instance, considers the book little more than a 'succession of scabrous one-liners'.

Reservations about Lette's work are not new. In 2008 the deathless sentence 'Sebastian's erect member was so big I mistook it for some sort of monument in the centre of a town' earned her book To Love, Honour & Betray (Till Divorce Us Do Part) a nomination for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Lette has had so many bad reviews over the years that she wrote a 'Review of reviewers', where she complained about critics who have the temerity to hold her to literary standards. In a revealing passage near the end of her self-defence, Lette suggested that a successful literary career has to involve 'the honing of cheerfulness to chatshow perfection'.

Lette's penchant for one-liners and disdain for subtlety may make her books unpopular with critics, but they help make her a star of the book festival circuit. In the same sort of way, many other awful writers become festival favourites. There is the occasional writer who can excel on the page and on the stage - Roddy Doyle, another star attraction at the Auckland festival, is an example - but these creatures are few and far between.

On Sunday morning I was a guest at the Readers and Writers Festival event called Poetry Pleasures, where a series of 'published poets' read from their work, and members of the audience were able to jump up and perform their own material.

It is easy to see why poetry readings are part of many book festivals. Because poems tend to be relatively short compared to other types of literary production, they can be performed within the confines of a book festival session. An audience doesn't have to hear poets talk about their work - they can, seemingly, be given the work itself.

I'm not sure, though, whether a poem is as easy to consume as festival organisers might think. A poem might take as long to read as a typical pop song, but it is made, or should be made, of denser, more recalcitrant, stuff than the offerings of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.

I've always liked Anthony Burgess' definition of poetry as 'the maximum exploitation of words'. In works of non-fiction, language tends to be subordinated to facts, and in novels plot or character are often of paramount importance; in poetry, though, the materiality of words - their complex history, their many shades of meaning and infinite associations, their shape and their sound - is both honoured and exploited. For many non-fiction writers and for more than a few novelists, language is a clear pane of glass through which we gaze at facts and events; for poets - good poets, anyway - it is something like the strata of the earth, layered by time and encrusted with recondite significances and antique treasures. In an era when digital technology, tabloid newspapers, corporate nomenclature, soundbite-centred politics, and television infotainment disguised as news are all helping dumb down language and restrict the scope of our thoughts, poetry can have a heady, subversive quality, not despite but because of the demands that it makes on readers.

A great poem like TS Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi' or Kendrick Smithyman's 'Waitomo' can be read in the time it takes Justin Bieber to perform one of his songs, but its richness means it can be reread again and again, and can deliver up new revelations with each new reading.

Whenever I read a poem aloud, either alone or to an audience, I feel a well-nigh irresistable urge to pause over certain words, and to repeat certain phrases again and again. I read the word 'epiphyte', and see how its elegantly hanging ps and y simulate the way that vines and aerial roots hang off rimu and rata in the bush at the top of a gravel road near my home; I encounter the word 'orotund' and see its middle syllable as a jolly round belly. I spot the word 'heaven' in one line, and the word 'pheasants' in the next, and hear vowels chiming, and want to make them chime over and over by repeating the lines again and again. I see the word 'rude', remember that centuries ago, on the other side of the world, it was part of a derogatory term for small farmers used by those determined to throw them off their land, and want to make a sort of auditory footnote about the early history of capitalism. I want to make any poem I'm reading last as long as a novel.

Eccentricities like these mean that I'm ill-suited to, and try hard to avoid, the contemporary 'live poetry' scene, which revolves around 'poetry slams' where young hipsters belt out their verses and then get marks out of ten from whooping or jeering audiences. Because there is so little time for them to make an impression on their audiences, poetry slammers tend to favour simple meanings, and to shun ambiguity. Language becomes, for them, a clear pane of glass through which some amusing story or political slogan or witty insult can be delivered.

I arrived at Aotea Centre last Sunday to discover that the Poetry Pleasures session was being held in an isolated corner of the third floor, rather than in one of the theatres where VIP guests were scheduled to perform. As I sat down in one of the chairs that had been laid in rows on frayed carpet and tried to hear the MC, who stood on a portable stage a little larger than a soapbox, great waves of laughter rolled out of the opened door of a theatre downstairs. I wondered if Kathy Lette was in action.

As part of our increasingly demented work on a documentary about the Great South Road, Paul Janman and I have been experimenting with the layering of images and sounds. In an effort to try to communicate the complicated and contradictory history of Auckland's most famous road, which began as a series of Maori tracks, became a colonist's bridle path and then a military highway, and is now a congested and confused route through the most diverse and rapidly changing part of Auckland, we've been superimposing images - of a pa, a horse and coach, a Chinese takeaways - on top of one another, and mixing up different sounds, so that our imaginary audience can hear, at one and the same time, the hoarse orders of a British general, the wheeze of a musket shell, a delivery truck backfiring outside an Otahuhu bakery, and the poetry of Kendrick Smithyman, anonymous soldiers, and your good self. I'd asked Paul to perform with me at Poetry Pleasures, in the hope of bringing some of the chaos of our experiments to the Aotea Centre. We were planning to read fragments of poems and historical texts over a cacophanous soundtrack, but Paul was forced at the last moment to withdraw from the event, and I had to ask my long-suffering wife to join me onstage. While Skyler read a few sentences about the history of the Great South Road and the Waikato War, I performed a sort of mash-up of poems from my 2011 book Feeding the Gods. Luckily, there were no poetry slam judges waiting to give my performance zero out of ten.

After the reading I went downstairs, looked longingly in the direction of the Aotea Centre's absurdly expensive bar, chatted with a couple of people about their memories of growing up on the Great South Road, and inspected the festival's vast literature table, where I found a few copies of Feeding the Gods in an obscure corner, far from towering stacks of Nancy Lette's masterpieces. As I wandered back into the Poetry Pleasures session, hoping to see David Eggleton and Gregory O'Brien perform, a middle-aged woman in the audience turned around in her chair so she faced me, sniggered rather loudly, waved a page from the festival programme at me, and then turned away again.

I was puzzled, until I remembered the photo.

The Readers and Writers Festival might express, in its choice of event venues and the arrangement of its literature table, a clear preference for some scribblers over others, but its programme is rigorously democratic. Each of the authors appearing at the festival gets a paragraph-long profile in the little book, along with a small photograph. Most of the photographs in the programme show their subjects at a kind angle, striking poses which make them look either admirably jolly or admirably serious. The portrait of yours truly is an exception.

Even before I lost my hair and gained a paunch a decade ago, I was not the most photogenic of men. But the image in the Readers and Writers Festival programme made me look like a cross between Benny Hill and Gerry Brownlee. After encountering a copy of the programme in my local library a few weeks before the festival, I e mailed Brett Cross, whose Titus Books published Feeding the Gods as well as my earlier poetry book To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps, and asked him how such an unflattering image had escaped into the world. Here's Brett's reply:

What's the problem? It looks great ;) The festival organisers were being very pushy, needed a photo in 2 hrs to go to print or something, and then I thought of facebook. And consider it some small recompense for all the unflattering photos you've put of folk on your blog.

Brett was punishing me, I think, for this, for this, and for this.

With my incomprehensible poetry reading and that downright creepy portrait, I think I failed to challenge the hegemony of the star performers at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival. Kathy Lette can rest easy.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Friday, May 11, 2012

When grumpy white men go native

While I was putting together the new issue of brief, I found myself rereading Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific. The book records a journey Theroux made in the early nineties, in the aftermath of the disintegration of his marriage.

Theroux is a famously caustic writer, but The Happy Isles of Oceania is perhaps the most ill-tempered of all his works. As he travels from island to island, flying over stretches of open ocean but paddling his collapsible kayak on the relatively calm waters of lagoons and harbours, his mood is relentlessly irascible. Although he is capable of appreciating the scenery of Oceania, the famous writer has little enthusiasm for the peoples of the region.

Theroux begins his journey in New Zealand, where he is disgusted by what he considers the slovenliness of immigrant Pacific Islanders. Watching members of the Pasifika community 'waddle' down an Auckland street, he decides that they must all come from an island called 'Fatland'. As he travels north, through the archipelagos of the Cooks, Samoa, and Tonga, Theroux finds nothing to improve his opinion of Polynesians. He discovers that Samoans are stupid, and he describes Tongans as 'late, unapologetic, envious, abrupt, lazy, mocking [and] quarrelsome'.

Again and again, on island after island, Theroux draws an unflattering contrast between the behaviour of contemporary Pasifikans and his romantic vision of their ancestors. When he spots a Tongan with a paunch eating corned beef from a tin, or a Cook Islander revving an outboard motor, or an American Samoan attaching a satellite dish to a tiled roof, Theroux sighs, and pines for the ancient Polynesian, who sweated off his feasts in the taro plot, and travelled by motorless vaka, and used the stars rather than GPS to navigate.

Theroux's complaints about the supposed decadence of the modern Polynesian segue into long and often self-indulgent accounts of his exploits as a seafarer and camper. As he paddles his plastic vaka across deserted waters late at night, Theroux self-consciously gazes up at the stars to check his progress. He lands on an uninhabited atoll, chops wood for a fire, cooks a meal, pitches his tent, and falls asleep congratulating himself on his sturdy self-sufficiency. There is an implicit contrast, throughout The Happy Isles of Oceania, between the degenerate modern Polynesians and the industrious, adventurous palangi writer who travels amongst them.

It is amusing to compare Theroux's attitude to Polynesia to that of the missionaries who descended on the region a century and a half ago. Where the missionaries sought to turn Polynesians into brown-skinned Europeans, and demanded the banning of barbarous practices like tattooing, lewd dancing, and inter-island travel, Theroux longs to meet an authentic, pre-modern Polynesian, who might be able to paddle with him under the stars or chant homage to pagan gods beside his campfire. But the Islanders Theroux encounters prefer to eat corned beef in front of the telly, and to worship Jehovah every Sunday. The Happy Isles of Oceania can be read as Theroux's attempt to deindigenise contemporary Polynesians, and to present himself as the true inheritor of traditional Polynesian culture.

And Theroux's effort to outnative the natives has more than a few precedents in European literature. When Daniel Defoe invented Robinson Crusoe, he gave his hero good survival skills as well as a Protestant work ethic. Crusoe has often been considered a symbol of European imperialism - James Joyce called him 'the prototypical English colonist' -  but he can also been seen as a white man who adapted successfully to the world of 'savages' like Friday. From Defoe's time until our own, the Pacific has attracted a stream of Robinson Crusoes, solitary men who have sought to prove themselves the masters of its waters and islands.

Tom Neale is nowadays a forgotten figure, but forty years ago he could reasonably have claimed to be one of New Zealand's most successful authors. An Island to Oneself, Neale's account of the seven years he spent living alone on Suvarov, a coral atoll in the northern Cooks, was published by mighty Fontana Books and became a critical and commercial hit in Britain. While the likes of Sargeson and Smithyman were struggling to get reviewed in New Zealand, let alone the Mother Country, Neale's artless narrative was being called 'absolutely required reading' by The Bookman and being praised as 'Crusoesque' in the Guardian.

After growing up in the South Island, Neale escaped the Great Depression by taking a series of jobs as a petty colonial bureaucrat in the Cook Islands. Although Neale enjoyed the climate of the Cooks, he fond the local people, with their growing enthusiasm for a cash economy and their desire for foreign goods, a 'bore', and yearned to live alone on an island. Neale got his chance in 1952, when a ship dropped him on Suvarov, which had been populated by Polynesians in prehistoric times and by Kiwi coastwatchers during World War  Two.

With its descriptions of solo gardening and fishing expeditions in a homemade boat on Suvarov lagoon, An Island to Oneself is a sort of how-to guide for solitary survivalists. Like Theroux, Neale tries hard to present himself as a sort of modern incarnation of the noble Polynesian savage. The photo on the cover of his book shows him standing under a coconut tree on one of Suvarov's beaches. His darkly tanned skin is naked except for a painful-looking loincloth, and he awkwardly holds a long spear. If the photo were not in colour it might be mistaken for a nineteenth century ethnographer's portrait of a 'primitive' South Sea Islander.

(Tom Neale died in 1977, but Suvarov continues to fascinate some Westerners today. In July 2011 the Russian politician Anton Bakov announced that he was taking possession of the atoll, and making it the capital of a revived Russian Empire. Bakov pointed out that Russian mariners had given the island its name after visiting and finding it uninhabited in 1814, but the Cook Islands government was unimpressed by his imperial ambitions. Bakov arrived in the South Pacific later in 2011, and together with a group of supporters set out for Suvarov in a chartered ship. Unfortunately, seasickness forced the empire-builders to turn around nearly two hundred kilometres from their goal.)

It is more than a little ironic that misanthropes like Theroux and Neale should try to associate themselves with traditional Polynesian culture, when that culture was, and indeed is, so relentlessly social. In the early 1860s, with the help of Iberian and Australasian pirates, Peru's wealthiest families acquired thousands of Polynesian slaves to work on their plantations and in their homes. Within weeks of their arrival in Peru, though, the apparently healthy slaves were dying in large numbers. In his study of the Peruvian slave trade Henry Maude suggests that, after being torn from their families and from the landscapes of their native islands, the Polynesians died of extreme loneliness. Such intensely social people could not bear isolation in an alien land like Peru.

Polynesian culture still puts an emphasis on sociability. Albert Wendt has talked about growing up in the midst of a perpetual crowd of relations and neighbours in Samoa, and has explained that the barren lava fields along the coast of Savai'i were virtually the only place he could go to enjoy solitude. In her funny and useful book Making Sense of Tonga, Mary McCoy notes that inhabitants of the Friendly Islands are so accustomed to company, and so fearful of solitude, that they will often refuse even to go a short distance on an errand without having at least one companion to stroll and chat with.

It might seem petty to criticise Paul Theroux and Tom Neale for their attempts to associate their self-isolation  with traditional Polynesian culture. Does it really matter that Neale pranced about on his lonely beach pretending to be a Polynesian warrior, or that Theroux in his collapsible kayak saw himself as a latter-day Kupe?

It seems to me, though, that books like The Happy Isles of Oceania and An Island to Oneself reflect a widespread Western delusion about Polynesian civilisation. Polynesians are supposed to be intrepid seafarers and ferocious warriors, and if the present-day inhabitants of societies like Tonga and Samoa do not fit these moulds then they must be some way deficient. If they eat processed food, watch television, or wear Western clothes then Pacific Islanders are somehow betraying their history, and displaying their decadence. Other cultures are allowed to embrace modernity without being tarnished by it; Polynesian culture, though, apparently cannot survive such contact.

The sort of prejudices we find in The Happy Isles of Oceania can make it difficult for Pacific Island intellectuals and artists to win the Western audiences they deserve. The painter Andy Leileisiu'ao, for instance, has complained about the expectation that, because of his Samoan heritage, he should put frangipani on his canvases, and avoid dealing with images and ideas which come from outside the Pacific.

Paul Janman's film Tongan Ark, which has been an occasional topic of discussion on this blog over the past six months or so, is an attempt to introduce palangi to Futa Helu, a polymathic intellectual who was as interested in Italian opera as Polynesian dance, and who sought to fuse European and Pacific cultures. During his lifetime, Helu was often criticised for being 'too European' and 'not Tongan enough', and over the past six months, Paul's film about Helu has occasionally been faulted for supposedly failing to deal with 'real' Polynesian culture. Only yesterday a commenter on this blog called Tongan Ark 'a study in decline', because it showed Polynesians 'wearing Western clothing' and 'living in Third World housing' instead of 'crossing the great seas' like Jason and the Argonauts. Paul's reply to his critic is worth pondering:

Tongan Ark represents uncomfortable contemporary (perhaps also eternal) realities...The film is also an indictment of the powers that are not allowing the modern 'argonauts of the mind' like Futa Helu to create paradoxical cultural hybrids of Eurocentrism and Tongan purism. In this way, they rob such innovators of their creativity and free will.

I hope that the new issue of brief can help in some small way to undermine the patronising and inaccurate picture of Polynesia found in books like The Happy Isles of Oceania.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Monday, May 07, 2012

Beyond the net: or, why you should donate books on May the 26th

[This post is a rather long-winded way of announcing that the launch of the Oceania-themed double issue of the Kiwi literary journal brief will be held at the Onehunga Workingman's Club, at 158 Onehunga Mall, on Saturday May the 26th, from 4 until 7 pm. There'll be a kava bowl and food upstairs, and booze downstairs. As I explain below, we'll also be taking donations for a worthy cause...]

The 2009 sci fi flick Surrogates is set in a future where humans spend almost all of their time lying in bed, hooked up to virtual reality machines. In the world of The Surrogates, virtual reality is so popular that people often forget that they have real, flesh and blood bodies that require feeding and cleaning. I sometimes think about the dystopia of Surrogates when I read the pronouncements of the more fervent evangelists for the internet. Over the past decade or so a succession of businessmen, superprogrammers, and politicians have proclaimed that the net has the potential to bring prosperity, equality of opportunity, and wisdom to the benighted peoples of the world. Too many of the apostles of the net, though, seem to forget that a troubled world, full of intractable distances and unstoppable forces, exists outside cyberspace.

David Willetts, Britain's Minister for Universities and Science, recently joined the ranks of the internet evangelists. Announcing plans to make all of the academic research published in Britain freely available online, Willetts proclaimed that the internet had the potential to 'return knowledge' to 'the people who paid for it', and eliminate problems of access to education. Willett seems to believe that, simply by putting academic material online, he can eliminate the vast gaps in resources between Britain's exclusive top-tier universities and the rest of its tertiary sector, and atone for the increases in student fees that have put many young Britons off tertiary study.

Willett's online archive of academic material will benefit researchers who work outside universities - people like local historians, genealogists, and journalists - but it will not substitute for a training in scholarly methods. The archive won't turn millions of Britons into brilliant autodidacts, and it won't destroy the enormous advantages that a few years at an elite university give to a few young Britons.

But David Willett is not alone in his immoderate enthusiasm for online research. In many Western nations, including New Zealand, university libraries have for years now been merrily disposing of supposedly obsolete back issues of journals, and signing up to online databases which provide access to those journals. Creaking old books have gone into the shredder, too, and been replaced by links to electronic archives like Project Gutenberg.

There is no doubt that the creation of online databases and libraries has benefited many scholars. Instead of groping about in shadowy library stacks, students at many universities can now access old articles or obscure tomes with the click of a mouse. Writers can see their articles and books reach more dispersed audiences. It is easy to forget, though, that in many parts of the world online research is a physical and financial impossibility. In these places scholars must work outside the vast virtual reality machine we call the internet.

Last Friday I met Sisi'uno Helu, the Director of the 'Atenisi Institute, a private university on the swampy western fringe of Nuku'alofa, the capital and only city of the Kingdom of Tonga. 'Atenisi was founded in the 1960s by Sisi'uno's late father Futa, and became famous for its dedication to classical scholarship, Tongan song and dance, and democratic politics. But Tonga is a poor country with a ruling elite that is uncomfortable with free speech and open enquiry, and 'Atenisi has often struggled to find resources. Helu and his students raised and maintained the university's buildings themselves, and their library and laboratories were always meagrely stocked. The Helus are a famously musical family, and in Tongan Ark, Paul Janman's film about 'Atenisi, Sisi'uno's opera singer sister Atolomake is shown performing on a makeshift stage near a wild section of the Tongan coast. As wave after enormous wave breaks on the rocks behind her, Atolomake sends her voice higher and higher, striving to drown out the dissonance with phrases from Verdi. Her performance becomes a metaphor for the struggle of 'Atenisi to rise above the blows of poverty and persecution. 
Last Friday Sisi'uno and I swapped stories about Tonga's extraordinarily slow internet connection. As a tourist in Tonga, I'd found the slow pace of the net an irritation; as an educator, Sisi'uno finds it a disaster. Tongans with access to computers can, with a bit of patience, check their e mails, and scan the news at Matangi Tonga or The Guardian Online. The slowness of their internet service makes  it very difficult, though, to perform the complex searches required by academic databases, or to download material from online journals. A scholar at the University of Auckland can click his mouse and download the pdf version of an essay from the Journal of the Polynesian Society in a couple of seconds; his counterpart at 'Atenisi would have to wait for many hours, or until one of the frequent disruptions of Tonga's internet service knocked him offline.

Even if Tonga's internet service were improved, most of its students would have little hope of roaming the world of online scholarship, because they cannot rely on regular access to a computer. Few Tongans can afford a laptop, and few schools can provide more than a handful of computers to their students.

Tonga's poor internet connection and lack of computers make old-fashioned 'hardcopy' books and serials crucial to the education of its young people. Unfortunately, the country is not richly endowed with either bookstores or libraries. The Friendly Islands Bookshop has a virtual monopoloy on the book trade in Tonga, and is notorious for charging high prices and carrying inadequate stock. The last time I visited the Nuku'alofa branch of the FIB, the only novel I could find was a paperback copy of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which was priced at a cool seventy-five pa'anga. Tonga has a long and heady literary tradition, and has in recent decades produced a world-class fiction writer in Epeli Hau'ofa and a renowned poet in Konai Helu Thaman, but the FIB is dominated by men who wrote thousands of years ago in  languages like Hebrew and Aramaic. It is easier to find a dictionary of Hebrew than a Tongan phrasebook in the store.

The deficiencies of the Friendly Islands Bookshop would not matter so much if Tonga possessed a good public library system. But Tongatapu, the country's capital island and home to seventy percent of its people, lacks a single public library. Tonga has a literacy rate which compares well to those of much wealthier nations like New Zealand, but its people lack the plentiful supplies of books that Kiwis take for granted.

Last Friday Sisi'uno explained that, because of the inadequacies of the internet and the absence of public libraries on Tongatapu, 'Atenisi's library was very important to its students, and badly needed replenishing.

When I presented her with a copy of the forthcoming issue of the Kiwi literary journal brief, which includes some work by her father, and with copies of a series of publications by Titus Books, Sisi'uno told me that she'd add these volumes to the shelves of the 'Atenisi library. She said that more donations were welcome, and it occurred to me that we could use the upcoming launch of brief 44-45 to collect some books to send to Tonga.

With Sisi'uno's agreement, then, I'm encouraging the bibliophiles who turn up to the launch of brief at the Onehunga Workingman's Club on Saturday the 26th of May to bring a book or three with them. Whether it's a novel you want to pass on, a political polemic you feel evangelical about and possess in duplicate, a textbook you no longer study or teach, or a tome by Scott Hamilton you bought out of guilt and now want to get rid of, your gift will be appreciated. The donated books will be packed up and posted to 'Atenisi. If you can't bring books to donate, you can always leave some coins in a cup to help pay for postage. For more information about the launch, or about donating books, flick me an e mail at

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Vaughan Rapatahana on my sporting career

Johnny Cash has a famous song about the travails of a boy named Sue, and gossip columnists love to mock and condemn the absurd names celebrities give their offspring. It is certainly how to see how any kid could enjoy being called Apple or Trixibelle or Pilot Helikopter. But very common names can also be troublesome to their bearers. As a kid, I was asked with tiresome regularity whether I played the saxophone, and how well I could skate. I had the same name as a smooth-playing, cheesily moustachioed American jazz musician and a figure skater who had won gold on the Sarajevo ice at the 1984 Winter Olympics.

More recently, and perhaps more flatteringly, I've sometimes been mistaken for the former Canterbury and All Blacks winger and fullback who was born a few years after me, and whose parents pinched my name. In a review of my first book of poetry in 2007, the late Rhys Brookbanks argued that I bore a reasonable resemblance to my ball-playing namesake. In his review of my second book of poems for Landfall Online, Vaughan Rapatahana is not so sure about my sporting credentials, though he does accuse me of using performance-enhancing drugs:

Feeding the Gods is a big trip, where time has run away with itself and men ‘meant’ to be dead are very much alive, some doing odd things. Franz Kafka has clawed his way into the dressing room. P.B. Shelley has all too obviously lent Hamilton part of his stash. Plentiful alcohol has also crept into the genesis of these pages. In between the ears of this Scott Hamilton, who does not play rugby at all, but reads a hell of a lot, there is something divergent; a mythopoeic morass that seeps onto the page with a flurry of quick-shuffle images and juxtaposed heroes, and above all, a vibrant social conscience...Scott Hamilton, the non-All Black who has never met Graham Henry, exists in a strange sociolinguistic ethos in comparison to most of his Pakeha poetic peers, in an extra-intelligent terrain unexplored by most of his fellow citizens...

Kendrick Smithyman did not get selected for the All Blacks and I suspect that in any case he was unavailable. Actually, he was one of my University of Auckland tutors way back, and he always wore the same light brown corduroy jacket with elbow pads of a different hue. He was a damned serious dude. Scott Hamilton – the one who would rather look for dendroglyphs and mull over Trevor Bentley books than jump in a lineout – lionizes Smithyman as a marginalised figure, and it is this trenchant outsiderism in his own pieces — inspired throughout by Smithyman’s bleakly obscure palimpsests — that works so well for me in this collection. 

I think that Vaughan is right in guessing that Kendrick Smithyman would have been unavailable for the All Blacks. In any case, he was too far past his best, as an athlete if not a writer, by the time the country's leading players made themselves unavailable by touring South Africa in the mid-'80s, and Brian Lochore began scouring the country's high schools and Golden Oldies clubs for able-bodied replacements.

Vaughan is right to an intuit a lack of enthusiasm for the great game of rugby in me. I enjoyed kicking an oval ball round the backyard as a kid, but when the time came to commit to a winter sport I was swayed by the superior footwear and relatively light tackling of the round ball sport, and joined the Papakura Association Football Club. My choice might have saved me from cracked ribs and hypothermia, but it exposed me to ridicule at school, where the sport contemptuously known as 'soccer' was regarded as the preserve of 'wooses' and 'Poms'. I've never been serious about making the All Blacks, but for the record, and in case John Wright's successor as coach of the New Zealand cricket team is reading this post, I'd like to say that I am still available for the Black Caps. I know I might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but if I were selected for the forthcoming tour of the West Indies I'd still be younger than Herb McGirr was on his international debut.

You can read Vaughan's very generous review in full here. My book can be bought online at the Titus site.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]