Dinner at the Dux Dine, that wonderful venue that arose from the ashes when the old Dux de Luxe became unusable post-earthquake. The daughter of my childhood friend Fiona was over from the UK on her honeymoon. Fran and Nick. They were in the middle of a passionate affair – with Aotearoa.
Everything is comparative, of course. How lovely we are beside the festering Brexit disease of the UK, which has spread not only through the populace but is also breaking up political parties. That nation with its silly class system, the desire of apparently a small majority to maintain old (white) values and a rotten racism at its heart, seems pretty close to the end of the road, one way or the other.
How lovely to see Jacinda on the world stage, and to hear ‘kindness’ and ‘politics’ in the same sentence. To FranNick, our PM represents a voice of reason and leadership that is sadly lacking anywhere else.
Oh yes and have I mentioned that they love the scenery and the kind people and the drivers, they say, are so polite and I did wonder for a minute which country they’d been in the past couple of weeks.
(I have been used to think that British drivers are politer and more accommodating than ourselves, largely because, I thought, there were so many more cars on the road, so people let people into lanes etc. But I may be wrong).
(But there is something about British drivers that really irks me, and this is their apparent love affair with the manual car. Whether this is some Freudian thing about a gear shift, or the old belief that you can get more revs, go faster, go harder, accelerate quicker with the manual, I don’t know. But I find it most weird, and can I profusely thank the Japanese used car market for turning NZ into an automatic-loving country about 30 years ago).
And the conversation wended its way inexorably to Trump, and stopped dead there, as it does, because when there is a Trump, all conversation is trumped, as it were. There is nothing to be said, unless you are Michael Cohen who has suddenly found his voice after decades of silence and blathered on to Congress for seven hours. An upcoming bout of prison will do that for you.
(And anyway, there were more interesting things to talk about, like whether we were having dessert. Which we were).
And it is hard in the Northern Hemisphere to find a single country that is as peaceful, calm, happy and kind as New Zealand. Should the United Kingdom or the United States, or both, erupt into neo-civil wars which, as all wars are, would be about which values should predominate in society, then we will look even better.
We have so many problems here: inequality and poverty and kids growing up in third world conditions. We have people holding out against paying a little of their capital profits in taxation. Racism and sexism continue, benefiting some at the expense of others. We deny prisoners the vote, and I note with pleasure some of the new, younger MPs taking that awful policy on.
We can’t fix the world, and who would be mad enough to try? But having dinner with these nice young foreigners, and seeing Aotearoa through their eyes as a country aspiring to a bicultural, bilingual, equitable future, perhaps there is still room to fix ourselves?
Jacinda has said that this is the year when the fixes will begin. We should see this as a sort of home renovation job. Part by part, room by room, the house, which has been left neglected to weather the storms of neo-liberalism, must now be fixed up, so that the rotten bits are replaced, and the worst bits are brought up to the standard of the best.
How lovely we (comparatively) are, and how much better again we may be, if the promises of reform by the government come to fruition.
Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research. Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).