A friend - we call him Grumpy even though he's not really, he just affects a gruff disposition around the office occasionally, he's a total softie - has had a hip replacement. He's laid up for a few weeks. So a mate and I thought we'd do the decent thing and take him Meals on Wheels, have a chat, tell him how everyone at work was missing him, even though they weren't, because he'd spent most of the past week or so (when he wasn't watching the Olympics) reading memos and pinging emails to and from Chateau Herald.
We drove from the CBD to Grumpy's place in Devonport through lashing rain, sat in his lounge and whiled away a pleasant hour or so of gossip, rumour and innuendo. All culled from that morning's paper and last night's TV - we never got around to talking about what was going on in the office.
Somewhere between the chicken wraps and the chocolate brownies we noticed that the rain had stopped and it was sunny again. In fact, Grumpy asked me if I was too hot, sitting next to the window, though that might have just been a polite way of demanding that he get his Laz-Y-Boy back. He showed us where the pukeko nest, where they fly up to the bamboo, where the tui like to hang out; rambled about the hawk that had flown in a couple of days back; mentioned that a piwakawaka had flown into the house just before his operation and he'd hoped it hadn't been a bad omen.
The mate asked if there were any wood pigeons about, because she lives in a treehouse in the Titirangi bush and they're as common around her place as pigeons are around my townhouse on the Parnell flats.
Lunch over, two of us drove back to the city. My mate looked at the cityscape from the northern motorway, seabirds on the sandbar, blue Waitemata, sun glinting on the mirror glass, the panorama from bridge to SkyTower, the Old Ferry Building, the new container cranes, out to the eastern beaches. The volcanoes behind, a reminder that however civilised, however modern Auckland likes to believe it is, there is another, ancient, enduring landscape and history just beneath, or in this case behind, the superficial.
My mate is leaving Auckland for a job in another city. "I think this is the most beautiful view of Auckland," she said. "I don't know what else I'll miss about Auckland, but I'll certainly miss this."
Fred Dagg, who knew that many true words had to be spoken in jest, reckoned "We don't know how lucky we are".
Aucklanders can, quite legitimately, gripe about how the region's infrastructure has been neglected by Wellington for 50 and more years, the buses don't run on time, we need a central city metro system.
More than a few of our outer suburbs lag behind a minority of inner enclaves in every social indicator you can think of. The Blues are bad on a good day and the Warriors are worse on a good night. We get four seasons in one day and some days we're even luckier and get them in one hour.
Your rates are higher than my rates even though my capital value is higher than yours.
But with a new administration, the sound of Auckland finding its own voice, the hint of planning for our waterfront and cycleways and little things like - maybe - some new footpaths in your suburb, there's a feeling that this region is on the move. At very long last.
And it's not just warm fuzzies brought on by the twittering chicks in Grumpy's backyard or the first glint of spring sun across City of Cork Bay. We may not agree with where the road is taking us - especially if that road is a new motorway through a park. Auckland is, and is probably always going to be, a long way from perfect. But where is perfect, and how do you get there?
BLAME THE REF, NOT THE PLAYERS
On a related matter, the IRB, in its wisdom, assuming it can find some, changes the rules of rugby. Henceforth players cannot use their hands. The All Blacks struggle to get their tight- and looseheads around the new laws and lose tests to Scotland, Wales, Namibia, Australia (okay, the last one is far-fetched, but work with me on this).
Who does the New Zealand public blame? Richie, Dan and the lads, or the suits at the IRB? Seems that's a reasonable description of the position that Mayor Len Brown and the Auckland Council find themselves over setting the rates.
The National-Act Government wrote the rulebook for the merged council. The Government insisted on a single rating system. The Government insisted the formula be based on capital value rather than the system some disbanded councils used. Mr Brown and the council officers are simply playing the game according to the rules.
Blame the ref, not the players.
That said, some ratepayers appear to have legitimate gripes about the way their rates have been assessed. Mr Brown and his chief financial officer have promised to review them. For the young council system, that's the true first test.
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