Horrible Thing

For some reason, Nero and the Velvet Underground were connected. My brother and his partner were renting a house in Sandringham from RBNZ governor Graeme Wheeler, who arrived to fixed the roof just as they were starting to have a party.  

That was just when I was asleep. Dreams get more vivid when I have migraines. I haven’t had one for years but on Friday went down with a beaut.

They also lead to forgetfulness – took the daughter walking at Makara, not only failed to lock the car but left one of the doors wide open.

There were also blotchy little elves on the edge of my vision, who frolic and dance and are happy and I hate the little bastards.

Every noise jars, I can taste colours and noises have a colour and is like a bayonet in the right side of the brain.

I can read books and the paper word. In fact, it helps take my mind off the aforementioned metaphorical bayonet which seems to be protruding from my right temple.


Walking- ‘that suspensive freedom’

Yours truly, above Lake Wanaka, last week. 
A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros (Verso 2014)
Discovered this wonderful little book over the summer and finally finished reading it: apt, as it turned out.  I’ve not done enough tramping over the past few years, mostly for boring middle aged reasons. It’s high time I got back into it.

Must confess I thought, when I saw the title in good ol’ Unity Books, that only a French bloke would find the need to come up with a philosophy of walking.

Shades of Sartre in the scroggin;  Pascal in the polypropylene; Derrida in the long-drop.

In fact it’s not like that at all: it is uncommonly direct and clear, if a bit disconcerting at times.

 ‘We must really manage one day to do without “news”,’ Gros begins one chapter – one which seems to me to be the core of the book, headed ‘Eternities’.

This may sound strange for a journalist, but I know what he means. One of my favourite political philosophers, Michael Oakeshott, was dismayed to be told, by a star pupil, of an intention to go into journalism, telling the lad, after a long silence, that ‘I think the need to know the news every day is a nervous disorder’.  

I doubt Gros has read any Oakeshott: too English, too empiricist, to sceptical for yer average continental philosopher. 

But they might have quite a bit in common: Gros writes that 

‘…walking makes the rumours and complaints fall suddenly silent, stops the ceaseless interior chatter through which we comment on others, evaluate ourselves, recompense, interpret. Walking shuts down the sporadic soliloquy to whose surface our rancour, imbecile satisfactions and imaginary vengeances rise sluggishly in turn….You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of the long grass and the freshness of the wind….’

‘Chatter’ is the big no-no for Gros. For those of us who need a bit of solitude in our lives, it is more of a problem than ever: the ubiquitous smartphone, the addictive aspects of social media, are forever bleeping at us, trying to tug annoyingly at the metaphorical elbows of our consciousness.

Longer walks, of several days, bring perspective: away from the ‘chatter’, both interior and exterior. A walk, a hike – in New Zealand parlance, a tramp – allows one to do what Gros calls rejoice:

“rejoicing in that suspensive freedom, happy to set off, one is also happy to return. It’s a blessing in parentheses, freedom in an escapade., lasting a couple of days or less.’

‘Suspensive freedom’. I love that.

The freedom in walking lies, he says, ‘in not being anyone, for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.’

He is very good on what it’s like: he slows down and notices the process of walking.

There is the  ‘strange impression’ made by the first steps each day: you’ve made all the preparations, navigation, food, gear, timings, weather etc, and then

‘you head off, pick up the rhythm. You lift your head, you’re on your way, but really just to be walking, to be out of doors That’s it, that’s all, and you’re there.’

There is a need to walk slowly – well, some of us don’t really have the option – and to not be overcome by goals, by turning the walk/tramp into another thing to tick off your list.
‘Knocking the bastard off’, to borrow Sir Edmund’s famous phrase about Everest, certainly has its place.
But for most of us, walking should be the goal itself.
‘…the authentic sign of assurance is a good slowness….a sort of slowness that isn’t exactly the opposite of speed’
‘Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints…When you hurry, time is filled to bursting, like a badly arranged drawer. 
‘Slowness means living perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one, drop by drop like the steady dripping of a tap on stone. 
‘This stretching of time deepens space. It is one of the secrets of walking: a slow approach to landscapes that gradually renders them clearer, like the regular encounters that deepen friendship. Thus a mountain skyline that stays with you all day, which you observe in different lights, defines and articulates itself.’

This is all gorgeous stuff. 

There is, if you want it, a bit of Yer Ack-Shul Phillosophee: there are chapters on those famous, and not so famous, philosophers who have liked walking, and the book starts with a quote from Nietzsche

‘We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books, when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors — walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful.’

Which certainly knocks some of the the more grandiose or gloomy prognostications of Nietzsche into the proverbial over-brimmed millinery.

It is also something I’ve noticed about myself: the better ideas often come while out walking. This is not to denigrate being, in Nietzsche words, ‘stimulated by books’.

The old mental appetite is certainly stimulated – and fed – by books, as well as by conversations, chats over coffee, and shouting matches over the Shiraz, gesticulating over the Glenmorangie.

But it is digested by walking.  This is about balance, and the interaction between walking, thinking and feeling.

‘The climbing body demands effort; it is under continuous tension…It’s important not to weaken, but to mobilise energy to advance, to place the foot firmly and hoist body slowly, then restore balance.  

So with thought: an idea to rise to something even more astonishing, unheard of, new.
and then again: it is a matter of gaining altitude,

There are thoughts that can only occur at 6000 feet above the plains and mournful shores.’

Italics added.

Every page has a lovely little line like this. If you like walking, thinking, and just slowing down and noticing, you won’t regret getting ahold of this work.

Health tip

Rosemary, I learned today,  is an excellent memory aid. Apparently if you sniff it every day, or something,  your memory improves by as much as mumble percent. 

I am impressed by this. I think a few dots need can be joined. Because as is fairly well known, the best thing to stick rosemary in is a leg of lamb. 
Accompanied, of course, by garlic – the health giving properties of which are also reasonably well established (helps blood pressure, also the immune system, scares vampires off, etc etc).
Bung in some red wine – which a lot of folk with impressive sounding sciencey letters after their names have told us is also pretty damn good for the ol’ bod.
I think we’ve established now, without doubt, that roast lamb is a health food. 

Slap Bang numbers

Three months ago, as I was walking into Statistics New Zealand, I ran into a bloke from Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce’s office.

What do you think today’s figure will be like, I asked him. None of the economists were forecasting any major change – they all had it sticking at around 6.5-6.8% of the workforce, where it had been for some time.

Certainly none of them expected it to go above 7%.

He grimaced.

“I don’t know about this one – we’ve got a feeling it might not be that good,” he said. This was interesting, as my own gut feeling was similar – in fact at that stage I was starting to wonder if the economy might have even gone backwards in the third quarter of last year.

None of us, though, thought it was going to be 7.3% of the workforce.

In the event, I didn’t write much about unemployment that day: running out of the Statistics NZ lock up to get a Vodafone mobile connection I stumbled into the sliding doors and wound up headbutting the gravel with extreme prejudice. Ended up in hospital with wires attached to me.

The consensus market forecast for today is I’ll stay upright, and there’s a lot less margin for upside/downside surprises on this forecast than there are to most economic outlooks right now.

Today’s figure could go either way, I think: for NBR Online subscribers, I’ve done a preview here.

The impression I get is the economy picked up again in the last six to eight weeks of the year, and when you look at the other economic data the 7.3% figure seems an outlier: the surprise is not that it rose, but that it rose by quite that much.

Vengeance with a Back

The osteopath has been doing an Eddy Izzard on the spinal column  – yeah I know that’s chiropracty…chiropractory…chiropractism…whatever they call it – and yeah I know osteopaths and chiropractors view each other with the kind of warm regard normally associated with relations between Black Power and Mongrel Mob, or maybe between the local Playcentre Committee and the local Kindergartetn Committee….but the general approach, when you’re on the slab, seems awfully similar.

They both sort of try to turn you into a gibbering, breathing pretzel.

A few things I have been reading – stuff about NZ’s economic imbalances, mostly, and I really want to get away from it right now, because I think we’re going to have to have someone turn our economy into a gibbering pretzel.  Which would be an improvement, I suppose, and at least our economy only needs a ‘crack yer bones’ treatment rather than the economic equivalent of chemotherapy, although we’re going to need it for about a generation.

We’re not quite Greece, although another recession or another earthquake and we will be.

I’d planned to get away from all this stuff, and I now shall do so.  Elsewhere on the web, Dr Yobbo has been visiting hotels in Auckland and working out what he can nick:

 ‘Vanity kit’, consisting of three cotton buds in a small cardboard box. I stuck one in each nostril and still didn’t look like Prince’s ex. It’s possible I was doing it wrong, but I reserve the right to sue.

Dirk Flinthart has been sleeping badly:

 …when I heard a stentorian electronic monotone blaring out from somewhere downstairs at 0300, I groaned and pulled the pillow over my head. But Natalie got up and investigated, and didn’t come back, and that kind of meant I had to do something manly and tough, so I got up and grabbed my robe.

A bit closer to home, and a bit more seriously,  Chris Trotter – and others – are saying the polls understate Hone Harawira’s support because a lot of his supporters use cellphones, and/or are young.

It is now an article of faith among some sections of the Left that the methodology of New Zealand pollsters is irredeemably flawed. They argue that since more and more young, brown and/or poor Kiwis no longer use landlines, polling agencies that continue to rely on interviews with landline subscribers are bound to produce results significantly skewed towards the opinions of old, white and rich voters.

Ah, yeah.  Parties doing badly in the polls always seem to argue that for some reason their supporters aren’t getting polled.  I heard Labour and, particularly, Alliance people run it in 1996, (and Labour people again in 2008)   on the grounds that a statistically significant chunk of their supporters couldn’t afford phones at all. 

In 1996, just under 1996 of NZ households had a landline: in 2008 it was around 98%.

I’ve heard National and Act people run  the same argument, in 1999 and 2002, on the grounds that a disproportionate number of their supporters are self employed, and too busy to answer polls.

It was almost  all self-deluding, whistling-in-the-dark stuff, although from memory Act did do a bit better than the polls suggested in 2002 (National did worse).

There might be a bit more variation in tomorrow’s byelection, because it is for the country’s northern-most Maori electorate, and if the stereotypes are true, there is a disproportionate number of the country’s drug dealers in that electorate – people who famously buy cheap prepaid cellphones on Trademe rather than have a landline. 

  But I’m always dubious about stereotypes, especially self-serving ones, and this one is a bit too pat. I’m also not too sure if drug dealers are particularly conscientious about voting.

Tim Watkin, meanwhile, was on the panel with Winston Peters last weekend and wonders if it is all over for the guy.  I had a similar response, watching the same interview, especially Peters’ ‘We’re still relevant’ at the end:  it had the same slightly desperate  and defeated tone as Muldoon’s ‘I love you too, Mr Lange,’ in the last debate in the 1984 election.

Watkin also notes something I think is being under-estimated by most of the opposition parties – especially Labour: that there is a very different mood in the country.

 The earthquakes in particular have changed the mood of the country in ways we still don’t entirely comprehend. There’s a wariness abroad in the land; a sense that things have changed.

He’s right, although I’d say the change started before the earthquakes – Canterbury’s tragedy has, however, made the mood deeper and stronger. I’d say the origin is in the global financial crisis and the realisation that the country can’t go on running up debt.  The earthquakes have given this an even sharper focus:  they’re a reminder that we are very vulnerable on a number of fronts and we need to be a lot more prudent if we’re going to deal with these. 


That last post?  The one with the screenshot from Google Maps?  It is where a tramping trip began last Sunday.

And ended there, too.  Prematurely.

There are other people I need to inform of the whole thing, including my osteopath and, perhaps, ACC, although they’re a bit more toey these days about back injuries….and also a couple of mates who I had planned to go tramping with over the next couple of months.  It looks like lugging anything large and full of scroggin around on my back is going to be a bit of a no-no for a bit.

Typing this is bloody hard, actually, MORE ANTI FLAMM NEEDED.

I did manage some tramping. Left that carpark and went in to Aspiring Hut.  Back felt a bit iffy from the start and after about 20 minutes was even more iffy, like iffy as in WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME.  iffy.

I did stay in there a couple of nights, because (a) by the time it was hurting enough to turn back the hut was closer than the start and (b) Presbyterian bloody-mindedness PAIN IS GOOD FOR YOU YOU SLACK BASTARD.

I did take some good photos and if technology is being reasonably gracious and/or the residue of antiflam on my fingers isn’t caused me to push the wrong button, these are below, or at least somewhere on this page.

You’ll have to find them yourself. It hurts me to point.

The last is from the drive out, but I like it. The first is from the Aspiring Hut, the second is on the way in.  This area is usually covered in snow by this time of the year – the conditions are more like April than June at the moment.


Worthy Pursuits [chough!!}

Wednesday. Lets see.

Got up.  Coughed up green stuff.  Had breakfast.  Of grapefruit and stir-fry garlic, ginger, broccoli carrots and almonds.  [what? Who are you calling weird??]

And tea. Lots of tea.

Got email about press conference.  Got another email asking about rumours about Richard Worth.

Cried off press conference as I seem to have a factory producing radioactive slimy kryptonite somewhere in my lungs.

Got tape of press conference.  Apparently worth has done unspecified Bad Things and is being stood down.

Way to go, PM’s office.  Excellent damage control. You just set half the journalists in the country chasing every possible rumour about Worth. It’s not like we had a lot on, anyway.

Got a couple more phone calls asking about various rumours about Richard Worth. I wheeze some I have heard.

By lunchtime I’ve heard half a dozen new rumours about Worth and I’m not even in Parliament Buildings.

Wrote column about superannuation.  Talked to some economists.

Went to doctor. Tell him I’m feeling better, he says no I don’t and writes out a scrip.

 Then he quizzes me about Richard Worth rumours.