From A Table By The Window.


HOW MANY YEARS has it been, I asked myself, since I climbed these stairs? That the little Wellington café was still in business after more than 40 years struck me as a miracle. And where better to meet the man who could still remember the events of 40 years ago – not least because he was there, in the thick of them?

He was waiting for me at the table window, his fingers moving slowly over the smooth face of his device. Two full glasses of red wine glowed dully in the wet afternoon light. The muted transactions of Willis Street provided a sibilant soundtrack.

“There you are”, he said, sweeping the information from his screen and placing the device carefully on the table. “Sit down, dear boy, sit down. I took the liberty of ordering a very nice Pinot Noir.”

“Perfect,” I replied, draping my damp jacket over the back of my chair. “I suppose that phone of yours hasn’t stopped ringing since the announcement?”

TDB Recommends

He smiled wanly. “Ringing, dear boy, ringing? Nothing rings anymore. Our devices beep, or chirrup, or play a bar or two of something, but they do not ring – much too indiscrete.”

“Discretion being the word-of-the-day”, I replied. “As in ‘discretion’ being the better part of valour – a quality of which this government appears to be in short supply.”

“Ever the idealist, dear boy. You surely didn’t expect this government to tell all those lovely people from British Intelligence and the FBI, who just happened to be in town this week, that, in spite of their oh-so-discretely conveyed objections, Spark’s deal with Huawei would be going ahead.”

“Forgive me, but I was under the impression that it was the Government of New Zealand’s job to define the parameters of its ‘national security’ – not the FBI’s. Does the continuing economic strength and welfare of the country not fall under the heading of ‘national security’? Or, making sure that the goodwill of the country’s largest trading partner is retained, and maybe even enhanced? I thought that might also be a matter of ‘national security’? Clearly, I was wrong.”

“If that was what you thought, dear boy, then, yes, you were wrong. Very wrong. The idea that one of the Five Eyes might sign up to a deal that could put all the other eyes at risk has absolutely no feathers, none at all. It is never going to fly.”

“Ah, yes, the Five Eyes. That vast electronic eavesdropping network dedicated to plucking all manner of classified information out of the air and sending it on, sight unseen, to the United States of America. The Five Eyes. An operation whose sole purpose is to steal other people’s secrets. This is the outfit that’s demanding we jeopardise our economic and diplomatic relationship with the Chinese because the Chinese might use their state-of-the-art 5G technology to do what? Oh, yes, that’s right – to steal other people’s secrets!”

“The most important noun in those impassioned sentences, dear boy, was United States of America. You named the most powerful nation on the planet. Knowing when you did so that what the most powerful nation on the planet wants, the most powerful nation on the planet gets. And, right now, what it wants is to make sure the nation aiming to take its place is not in a position to weaponise ‘The Internet of Things’ against it.”

“You’ve been reading to many thrillers.”

“Actually, dear boy, it’s you who hasn’t been reading enough. Cyber-warfare is the greatest threat we face. Why? Because, in just a few years, the interconnectedness of the world and the breath-taking speed at which information travels will confer upon the technology organising its distribution the power to simply shut down the economic, social and political systems of its owner’s rivals. What would you do, dear boy, if you went to the nearest ATM and discovered that your bank accounts had been deleted? That all your money had gone? Poof! Just disappeared? What if the same thing had happened to everybody else’s bank accounts? How does a government ‘fix’ a problem like that?”

“Okay – suppose I buy into this sci-fi scenario. It still boils down to Lenin’s fundamental question: ‘Who? Whom?’ Someone’s got to be in the omnipotent position you describe. So, all you’re actually telling me is that the omnipotent one cannot under any circumstances be China. Which is just another way of saying that it has to be the United States.”

“It’s not what I’m saying, dear boy, it’s what the United States is saying.”

“Regardless of the consequences for the economic and social welfare of New Zealanders? Do the Americans and their lickspittles from London and Canberra not understand that Beijing will exact a price for being treated so shabbily by Wellington?”

“Of course they do. They just don’t care. Why don’t they care? Because they know that anything Beijing decides to do will take time to manifest itself in a way that impacts upon the ordinary person in the street. Anything they decide to do to punish a maverick New Zealand government, by way of contrast, will take effect almost immediately. With the Australians acting as their proxies, the Americans can make our economy scream a lot faster than the Chinese. What’s more, in its upper echelons, New Zealand society is so stuffed with US “assets” that the political destabilisation of a recalcitrant government would be over in a matter of weeks, not months.”

“So we just have to sit back and take it – or the Yanks will rip our guts out?”

My companion looked out the window for a moment, taking in the hurrying Willis Street crowds, umbrellas raised against the wind-driven rain, and sipped his wine.

“Do you know, dear boy, that it wasn’t so very far from here that Bill Sutch was apprehended. All his life he had struggled to find a way for New Zealand to strike out on its own: to cut herself free from the apron strings of Mother England; to step out from Uncle Sam’s shadow. The problem he was never able to solve was, how? How does a tiny country escape the clutches of an imperial superpower? In the end, the best answer he could come up with was: by enlisting the help of another superpower. Do you remember, dear boy, how that story ended? The same delightful outfit that has been entertaining the boys and girls from MI6, and the FBI were on to poor old Bill in a flash. They put him on trial. Crushed his spirit. Within twelve months he was dead – and so was the government he had tried to help. Not a happy ending, dear boy. And not a course of action I’d recommend – especially not a government as callow and inexperienced as this one.

Now it was my turn to stare out into the rain. To take in the purposeful haste of the capital city’s busy ants.

“More wine, dear boy, and a plate of the chef’s truly outstanding club sandwiches. In forty years they, at least, haven’t changed.



  1. I would expect the banks to maintain off-line backups of everything, so if I went to an ATM machine and found my bank accounts deleted it would probably be somewhat inconvenient, but not the end of the world.

    • MIKESH Having just lately had questions of my bank over a particular aspect of my on line banking which i considered dangerous, and not receiving satisfactory answers,( the I.T. guy calls at the branch once a month) i am afraid i do not share your confidence in off line back up. Presumably you are talking of electronic back up, but as the system is theoretically disabled how do we access that?? Possibly the banks have large storage facility’s full of dusty files, but i somehow doubt it

    • I’m certainly no expert on these matters MIKESH, but I was intrigued by the plot-line of the recent political thriller “The President Is Missing”.

      Cyber-war would appear to offer a country’s enemies some astonishing and deeply disturbing possibilities.

  2. Weirdly, that sounded like a veiled threat!

    Shut up or we’ll fuck you up. We’ll ‘Bill Sutch’ your ass.
    (Is the definition of paranoia in knowing all the facts?)
    ‘They’ already did a ‘Paul White’ on Paul White.
    No one powerful fellow characterised by the tiny little diddle that can’t grow bigger cares one single jot about the collective ‘us’.
    What they DO care about, and have a great deal of interest in, particularly now, is our actual physical land mass and the natural assets on it. We, the people, are nothing more than an annoyance on it to them. Like the beastly Red Skin was on the grass lands.
    ‘ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Seen it yet?
    And when you buy your pap from The Warehouse? These are the people driving to work to make it. Check out this @ 1.05
    As for the interweb? Yep. A terrible weapon and now omni-potent because we’ve all been suckered in to heavily relying upon it. Snap! Goes the trap.
    You got a patch of lawn? Nice and smooth is it? Precision shaved and exactly the same green hue all over is it? Not one single weed? Your pride and joy? Dig it up. Grow the vulgar potato. And quick smart. Just give it a go! And grow up too. Verticle gardening in pots or troughs works super well. Better than eating the dog.
    Why not buy a piece of land in that mythical hinterland called ‘The Countryside’ . It’s where the dreaded ‘farmer’ lives. They eat babies and fuck chickens but they scrub up well enough. If you soak them in detergent overnight, most of the crusts and caking’s will come away after a going over with a water blaster. If you can’t bare their loud grunts and squeaks around the barbi? Just put an old rugby game on the tv. They’ll cry as the hug each other… Then? Pop on a blue suit, blue shirt and a blue tie, screw on a cheesy grin, patronise them until their eyes glaze over, share the chicken then toss them a slab of bleeding red meat. Sweet-as. Nah….? Yeah!

    • When will you publish a book, this kind of stuff needs to be kept on record for the afterlife, in words you can produce so well, for the future generation(s), to try help them comprehend how screwed up us humans were in the last days of this mad ‘civilisation’?!

      • I keep saying he should,… and I’d be the first in the queue to buy it. It would the most dry humored , witty gritty and cutting edge critique of NZ politics for decades.

        Something we sorely need.

        Something we haven’t seen since the days of McPhail and Gadsby.

        It would rival ‘Bastards I have met ‘ by B . Crump. Now I know Crump got a lot of bad press, and caused many to groan at the cliche’ of an old time ‘chauvinistic’ NZ… but his series had me in complete stitches… and I’m not going to apologize for that. No way.

        It would also rival Nicky Hager but in a completely different way.

        And would be just as effective in sending up these criminals as Hagers style is.

    • Very interesting to mention Paul White, even Google requires some diligence to confirm the reference but it’s a case well worth remembering when considering who we can trust..

      • I’d never heard of Paul White until my 10 years senior boss ( ex military and self employed hard doer ) filled me in on what happened. He worked on the ‘Quiet Earth’ movie set. In what capacity I will not say.

        But having that hard headed NZ military ‘can do’ attitude of old time Kiwi’s… I listened to what he had to say. And me, being slightly obsessive at times spent many hours on the interweb (thanks COUNTRYBOY ) reading as many sites as I could on the subject.

        The deeper I got into the subject ?, … the more I saw the silent evil and the methods they used… on an average happenstancer who never dreamed of the kind of ominous forces arrayed against him. Just an average Joe , with several flaws that led to his undoing. An untutored individual who saw the world through naive eyes. Like a lot of Kiwis with good hearts do.

        And no one to stand by him when the pressure came on.

        There needs to be a memorial to Paul White.

        In a prominent place.

        To remind those foreign evil leeches who deem this place as their playground that there are those who see just who they are, how they operate , and that if they push that bit too hard… that there might just be an unexpected bonny comeuppance that will not be very pleasant for them…

        We are not spineless.

        In memory of Paul White.

        [Paul White – mysterious death]. – Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

        Download ParadiseConPreview

        And yet none of these really get to the heart of it.

        If time permitted I would include other historic sites.

        But the term ‘Something is rotten in Denmark’ does not just pertain to a 16th century play by Shakespeare…It also pertains to ‘Something is rotten in NZ’s recent history’ , – primarily after the neo liberal takeover kicked off by that arch treasonist, Roger Douglas.

        Think about it.

  3. Do Americans have plot shields and armour. I know some just have nice hats.

    If it where me I’d be the laziest spy ever. No one would suspect me.

  4. Ah , but Chris,… you are leaving out the great Roman examples and not taking into consideration the writings of Sun Tzu ,…

    Playing one off against another.

    Letting your enemy’s tire themselves out and destroy one another.

    Winston Peters has offered a way out. Trade with the Russians. A brilliant tactical move that extricates us from Chinese and American imperialism.

    And makes us rich.

    Let the Chinese rail, let the Americans rail… let the Americans wring their hands at the smaller sibling who now trades with their ‘deadly rivals’. Let little NZ salute with the middle finger England who so promptly ditched us when they joined the EEC…

    America, who use us as a gawking outpost on the Pacific and China with their 5 eyes system,…China, who use free trade deals as a way to implement soft power on us and our democracy…

    Take them all down by trading big time with the Russians. Embarrass them all.

    You might just find, that suddenly ,… those long sought after trading deals with America might just become very lucrative indeed all of a sudden as a sweetener … meanwhile,… no promises given as we happily trade wholesale with the Ruskies…

    Trading with the Russians… which on another post you made yesterday had some obviously vested interest Chinaphile object so strongly to… then taking evermore ground by developing trade links with more and more of Europe’s populations…

    And China?


    You trade with us on our terms without your soft power ulterior motives or we simply go elsewhere.


    You want a listening outpost?

    Then open your trade like you used the Black Ships on the Chinese 100 years ago.

    Pit em against each other. Take nothing but the best. And give the bare minimum requirements in return. Because that is how for too long both have treated us.

  5. Yes Please Countryboy. Make a book soon so we can all give each other a copy for next Christmas. Maybe co-opt a cartoonist.

  6. You would be pretty cramped sitting at your spindly coffee table Chris. Such erudite conversation bunkered in.

Comments are closed.